Sample problem:

Find an equation $\theta(n)$ for which $\theta(n)=\left\{ \begin{array} &0, \text{when } n\in \text{Composed} \\ n, \text{when } n\in \text{Prime} \end{array} \right.$

This problem is from the International Youth Math Challenge $2018$ and since they do not return marked sheets, I am unsure if my solution was correct.

My final answer was: $$\theta (n)=n-n\cdot \text{sgn} \left(\prod_{i=1}^{\infty} |n-p_i|\right)$$ where $p_i$ is the $i^{\text{th}}$ prime number. This is all I could come up with and to be honest, I am not too happy with it, because I feel like I have basically chosen something that will only give the answer I want. Is this solution correct, mathematically? Is there a better solution?

Note: $\text {sgn}(n)$ is the $\text{sign}$ or $\text{signum}$ function and $$\text{sgn}(n)=\left\{ \begin{array} &-1; \ \ n\lt 0\\ \ \ \ 0; \ \ n=0\\ \ \ \ 1; \ \ n\gt 0 \end{array} \right.$$

  • $\begingroup$ Are you sure you're giving the complete statement of the problem? I don't think it makes sense without some sort of restriction as to what kind of functions/primitives you are allowed to use in a solution. $\endgroup$ – Evangelos Bampas Dec 21 '18 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ The infinite product formula you suggest requires to compute an infinite product, which cannot be done in practice (and to define the signum function at $+\infty$, which is not so usual), and to know the full set of primes, which seems rather impractical as well. Easy remedies to these two defects are suggested below. $\endgroup$ – Did Dec 21 '18 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Did which is what my title wonders. I only get the results I want, I cannot make further assumptions. $\endgroup$ – Mohammad Zuhair Khan Dec 21 '18 at 15:33

I'm not sure what kind of functions are allowed but here is a similar one (might be equivalent after some small changes), the differences being it's finite and doesn't require ability to select primes:

For any positive integer $p$, define this function $$ f(n,p):= \left\lceil \frac{n-p\lfloor \frac{n}{p}\rfloor}{n} \right\rceil $$ If $p$ divides $n$ then $f(n,p)=0$, otherwise $n-p\lfloor n/p\rfloor\neq 0$ so $f(n,p)=1$.

You can then use this to make the following: $$ \theta(n):= n - n\prod_{p=2}^{n-1}f(n,p) $$ If $n$ is composite then one of the $p$'s will make the product $0$ and hence $\theta(n)=n$. Otherwise $n$ is prime and the product is $1$, giving $\theta(n)=0$.


Good try; but there's something that needs fixing. When $n$ is composite, the product diverges to $\infty$; so you should define $\text {sgn} (\infty) = 1$.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the advice. But, unless I am mistaken, $+\infty \gt 0?$ $\endgroup$ – Mohammad Zuhair Khan Dec 21 '18 at 6:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @MohammadZuhairKhan Yes; just personally, I would mention that case, since often people assume that youre working in $\mathbb{R}$ instead of the extended number system. I would just put it to make sure there's no chance of getting points off. $\endgroup$ – Ovi Dec 21 '18 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ Oh okay thank you. Ofcourse, as it is done already, I can not (and would not) update my answer. But is there any other solution for this problem? I have a suspicion that this might be an open problem, or atleast a sensible version of it will. $\endgroup$ – Mohammad Zuhair Khan Dec 21 '18 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ @MohammadZuhairKhan I am thinking about it $\endgroup$ – Ovi Dec 21 '18 at 6:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Ovi I would definitely not assume we are working in $\mathbb{R}$, $\mathbb{N}$ might be a better choice (nitpicks). I also don't see any reason to include such a definition, I would much prefer simpy choosing and noting which set does $n$ belong to. I would go as far as to consider writing $\text{sgn}(\infty)$ a mistake without well explaining why are you doing that and what do you mean by that. $\endgroup$ – J.E Dec 21 '18 at 11:10

Instead of the sign function, you could potentially use the Kronecker delta, which is defined as

$$\delta_{mn}=\begin{cases} 1 & \text{if }n=m\\ 0 & \text{if }n\neq m \end{cases}$$

It basically compares two numbers and gives $1$ if there is a match and $0$ otherwise. By summing over such Kronecker delta's, you could build:


(where $p_i$ is the $i$-th prime number). However, I'm wondering if this would be accepted because it kind of bypasses the question of "checking if $n$ is prime". Both our formulas are just a nice rewording of the "text-form" formula given in the question, so I'm not certain this was the kind of answer that was expected.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ To be honest, the entire problem seems to be a test of a student's thought process. $\endgroup$ – Mohammad Zuhair Khan Dec 21 '18 at 15:36

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