Browsing category algebra

A quadratic simultaneous equation

A charming little puzzle from Brilliant: $x^2 + xy = 20$ $y^2 + xy = 30$ Find $xy$. I like this in part because there are many ways to solve it, and none of them the 'standard' way for dealing with simultaneous equations. You might look at it and say

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Lines and squares

This puzzle presumably came to me by way of @ajk44, some time ago. Thanks, Alison! The problem, given here, is to find the equations of two lines that complete a square, given: Two of the lines are $y=ax+b$ and $y=ax+c$ One of the vertices is at $(0,b)$. The example given

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Mishandling polynomials for fun and profit

One of the more surprising results a mathematician comes across in a university course is that the infinite sum $S = 1 + \frac{1}{4} + \frac{1}{9} + ... + \frac{1}{n^2} + ...$ comes out as $\frac{\pi^2}{6}$. If $\pi^2$s are going to crop up in sums like that, they should be

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Ask Uncle Colin: Spotting factors

Dear Uncle Colin, In a recent test, I stumbled across $9x^4 + \frac{1}{144x^4} + \frac{1}{2}$, which apparently factorises as $\left(3x^2 + \frac{1}{12x^2}\right)^2$. How on earth am I supposed to spot that?! - Feeling Almost Cheated, That's Only Reasonable Hi, FACTOR, and thanks for your message! I wouldn't instinctively spot that

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A coin sequence conundrum

Zeke and Monty play a game. They repeatedly toss a coin until either the sequence tail-tail-head (TTH) or the sequence tail-head-head (THH) appears. If TTH shows up first, Zeke wins; if THH shows up first, Monty wins. What is the probability that Zeke wins? My first reaction to this question

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Ask Uncle Colin: A STEP in the right direction

Dear Uncle Colin, I'm struggling with a STEP question. Any ideas? Given: 1. $q^2 - pr = -3k$ 2. $r^2 - qp = -k$ 3. $p^2 - rq = k$ Find p, q and r in terms of k. - Simultaneous Triple Equation Problem Hi, STEP, and thanks for your

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Mr Penberthy’s Problem

It turns out I was wrong: there is something worse than spurious pseudocontext. It's pseudocontext so creepy it made me throw up a little bit: This is from 1779: a time when puzzles were written in poetry, solutions were assumed to be integers and answers could be a bit creepy...

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Ask Uncle Colin: My partial fractions decompose funny

Dear Uncle Colin, I recently had to decompose $\frac{3+4p}{9p^2 - 16}$ into partial fractions, and ended up with $\frac{\frac{25}{8}}{p-\frac{4}{3}} + \frac{\frac{7}{8}}{p-\frac{4}{3}}$. Apparently, that's wrong, but I don't see why! -- Drat! Everything Came Out Messy. Perhaps Other Solution Essential. Hi, there, DECOMPOSE, and thanks for your message - and your

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An innovative algebraic approach

Usually, when faced with a word problem, I take the most obvious approach and call it done. But then, sometimes, I read of an alternative approach that makes me go "Whoa." This is one of those times. Here's the problem: One day, a person went to a horse racing area.

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Ask Uncle Colin; A variable fraction

Dear Uncle Colin, I have a fraction, $\frac{x^2-x}{x-1}$, and I want to cancel it down to $x$ - but I'm not sure those are the same. Are they? - Got A Lot Of Interesting Sums Hi, GALOIS, and thanks for your message! The short answer is, yes and no. Everywhere

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