This is an exercise from Schaum's Outline of Precalculus. It doesn't give a worked solution, just the answer.
The question is:
Factor $x^4 - 11x^2y^2 + y^4$
The answer is:
$(x^2 - 3xy -y^2)(x^2 + 3xy - y^2)$
My question is:
How did the textbook get this?
I tried the following methods (examples of my working below):
- Guess and Check.
- Reversing the question (multiplying the answer out).
Here is my working for each case so far.
I tried a simpler case via u-substitution.
Let $u = x^2$ and $v = y^2$. Then $x^4 - 11x^2y^2 + y^4 = u^2 -11uv + v^2$. Given the middle term is not even, then it doesn't factor into something resembling $(u + v)^2$ or $(u - v)^2$. Also, there doesn't appear to be any factors such that $ab = 1$ (the coefficient of the third term) and $a + b = -11$ (the coefficient of the second term) where $u^2 -11uv + v^2$ resembles $(u \pm a)(v \pm b)$ and the final answer.
(2) Guess and Check.
To obtain the first term in $x^4 - 11x^2y^2 + y^4$ it must be $x^2x^2 = x^4$. To obtain the third term would be $y^2y^2 = y^4$. So I'm left with something resembling:
$(x^2 \pm y^2)(x^2 \pm y^2)$.
But I'm at a loss as to how to get the final solution's middle term from guessing and checking.
(3) Reversing the question
Here I took the answer, multiplied it out, to see if the reverse of the factoring process would illuminate how the answer was generated.
The original answer:
$(x^2 - 3xy -y^2)(x^2 + 3xy - y^2) = [(x^2 - 3xy) - y^2][(x^2 + 3xy) - y^2]$
$= (x^2 - 3xy)(x^2 + 3xy) + (x^2 - 3xy)(-y^2) + (x^2 + 3xy)(-y^2) + (-y^2)(-y^2)$
$= [(x^2)^2 - (3xy)^2] + [(-y^2)x^2 + 3y^3x] + [(-y^2)x^2 - 3y^3x] + [y^4]$
$= x^4 - 9x^2y^2 - y^2x^2 + 3y^3x - y^2x^2 - 3y^3x + y^4$
The $3y^3x$ terms cancel out, and we are left with:
$x^4 - 9x^2y^2 - 2x^2y^2 + y^4 = x^4 - 11x^2y^2 + y^4$, which is the original question.
The thing I don't understand about this reverse process is where the $3y^3x$ terms came from. Obviously $3y^3x - 3y^3x = 0$ by additive inverse, and $a + 0 = a$, but I'm wondering how you would know to add $3y^3x - 3y^3x$ to the original expression, and then make the further leap to factoring out like terms (by splitting the $11x^2y^2$ to $-9x^2y^2$, $-y^2x^2$, and $-y^2x^2$).