$\newcommand{\floor}[1]{\left\lfloor #1 \right\rfloor}$An example here seems best. How many digits in base 2 do I need to represent any odd integer from $1$ to $\sqrt{77}$, inclusive? It seems to be essentially half the digits required for $77$ --- in base 2. We can represent $77$ with $7$ digits in base 2. Half of that is $3.5$, so we need $4$ digits in base 2. So let's change "essentially half" to "exactly $\floor{n/2} + 1$, where $n$ is the number of digits in base 2 held by $N$.

Since I'm interested in the odd integers (from $1$ to $\sqrt{77}$), this means that the last digit must be $1$. But if $4$ is the number of bits, then I get the wrong list in base 2: $$0001_2 = 1_{10}, 0011_2 = 3_{10}, 0101_2 = 5_{10}, 0111_2 = 7_{10}, 1001_2 = 9_{10}, ...$$

That's wrong because $9 > \sqrt{77}$. So the number must be less than $4$ digits in base 2. When I try $3$, I get the correct list

$$001_2 = 1_{10}, 011_2 = 3_{10}, 101_2 = 5_{10}, 111_2 = 7_{10},$$

but I haven't found an argument to convince myself I'm right. (Will this always work? Why?)


The number of digits of a number $N$ in base $b$ is $\log_b N+1$. So the number of digits of $\sqrt{N}$ in base $2$ is

$$\log_2 \sqrt{N}+1 = \frac{1}{2}\log_2 N +1.$$

The $\frac{1}{2}$ shows why it takes half as many digits for $\sqrt{N}$ as $N$.

  • $\begingroup$ $\newcommand{\floor}[1]{\left\lfloor #1 \right\rfloor}$I think you mean $\floor{\log_b N} + 1$. This is only part of the answer. I'm not interested in all integers from $0$ to $\sqrt{N}$, but only the odd integers. In the example I gave, we could take one bit less than $\frac{1}{2}\floor{\log_b \sqrt{N}} + 1$. If we use this exact quantity, we go up to $15$ instead of $7$. I haven't understood why this happens. $\endgroup$ – Luitpold Ambre Dec 3 '18 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ You're just rounding funny. If the log comes out to be an integer, then the number is a power of 2 and hence even, so you don't have to worry about integer logs. So you might as well round up and use $\lceil \log_2 N \rceil,$ And to get rid of your little endpoint problem, note that you might as well round the square-root down. So how about $\lceil \log_2 \lfloor \sqrt{N} \rfloor \rceil.$ $\endgroup$ – B. Goddard Dec 3 '18 at 16:52

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