A Gardner-esque puzzle

One of my favourite sources of puzzles at the moment is @WWMGT – What Would Martin Gardner Tweet? (Martin Gardner, in case you’re not up on the greats of popular maths writing, was one of the greats of popular maths writing – and is indirectly responsible for Big MathsJam.)

Recently, it was decreed that Martin Gardner would have tweeted:

Show that no square of two or more digits can have only odd digits.

Must be easy, I thought. Let’s do it by contradiction, and try to find a square number – $k^2$ with only odd digits.

$k$ has to be odd, because otherwise it would end in an even digit – so it must end in 1, 3, 5, 7 or 9.

If $k$ ends in 1, it can be written as $k = 10n+1$, so $k^2 = 100n^2 + 20n + 1$; its last digit is 1, but the one before it is even ($\frac{k^2 – 1}{10} = 10n^2 + 2n$).

A similar argument accounts for $k$ ending in 3: if $k = 10n + 3$, $k^2 = 100n^2 + 60n + 9$, which again has an even penultimate digit.

It was at exactly this point that inspiration struck.

You see, I’d been worried about how I was going to deal with awkward numbers like somethingty-seven and somethingty-nine – but then it struck me: I can write those as $10n – 3$ and $10n – 1$ and apply the same reasoning as before! That just leaves me with somethingty-five.

If $k = 10n + 5$, then $k^2 = 100n^2 + 100n + 25$, in which case the penultimate digit has to be 2.

And we’re done! None of the possibilities hold up, so our assumption that there was such a number must have been mistaken.


Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.


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I teach in my home in Abbotsbury Road, Weymouth.

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