Author: Colin

Dictionary of Mathematical Eponymy: The Collatz Conjecture

What it is Every so often, one comes across a teacher who is Properly Evil. I’ll spare names here, but I have a clear, strong memory of being introduced to the Collatz conjecture on a school trip. “Take a number, let’s say 3. If it’s odd, you treble it and

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Ask Uncle Colin: Scheduling a tournament

Dear Uncle Colin, I’m trying to organise a tournament involving seven teams and two pitches. The following conditions must hold: Each team plays four games No pair of teams meets more than once Each team must play at most one pair of back-to-back matches How would you solve this? Bit

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The Mathematical Ninja and the Other Rope

This is based on a puzzle I heard from @colinthemathmo, who wrote it up here; he heard it from @DavidB52s, and there the trail goes cold. The Mathematical Ninja lay awake, toes itching. This generally meant that a mission was in the offing. Awake or dreaming? Unclear. But the thought

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Ask Uncle Colin: What’s $\sqrt{100!}$?

Dear Uncle Colin, How would I work out $\sqrt{\ln(100!)}$ in my head? - Some Tricks I’d Really Like In Number Games Hi, STIRLING, and thanks for your message! I don’t know how you’d do it, but I know how the Mathematical Ninja would! Stirling’s Approximation1 says that $\ln(n!) \approx n

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A Textbook Error?

In class, a student asked to work through a question: Let $f(x) = \frac{5(x-1)}{(x+1)(x-4)} - \frac{3}{x-4}$. (a) Show that $f(x)$ can be written as $\frac{2}{x+1}$. (b)Hence find $f^{-1}(x)$, stating its domain. The answer they gave was outrageous1. Part (a) Part (a) was fine: combine it all into a single fraction

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Ask Uncle Colin: It’s Hip To Be Square

Dear Uncle Colin, I’m struggling to make any headway with this: find all integers $n$ such that $5 \times 2^n + 1$ is square. Any ideas? Lousy Expression Being Equalto Square Gives Undue Exasperation Hi, LEBESGUE, and thanks for your message! Every mathematician should have a Bag Of Tricks –

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Wrong, But Useful: Episode 64

In this month’s episode of Wrong, But Useful, we’re joined by @DrSmokyFurby and his handler, Belgin Seymenoglu. Apologies for the poor audio quality on this call. Dave's fault, obviously1 . We discuss: The Talkdust podcast (via Adam Atkinson): Life insurance Superpermutations: new record for n = 7 in the comments

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On Epiphanies

I had a fascinating conversation on Twitter the other day about, I suppose, different modes of solving a problem. Here’s where it started: Heh. You spend half an hour knee-deep in STEP algebra, solve it, then realise that tweaking the diagram a tiny bit turns it into a two-liner. —

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Ask Uncle Colin: Computing $\sqrt{2}$

Dear Uncle Colin, If I didn’t have a calculator and wanted to know the decimal expansion of $\sqrt{2}$, how would I be best to go about it? Roots As Decimals - Irrational Constant At Length Hi, RADICAL, and thanks for your message! There are several options for finding $\sqrt{2}$ as

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The Dictionary of Mathematical Eponymy: Banach’s Matchbox Problem

Stefan Banach was one of the early 20th century’s most important mathematicians - if you’re at all interested in popular maths, you’ll have heard of the Banach-Tarski paradox; if you’ve done any serious linera algebra, you’ll know about Banach spaces; if you’ve read Cracking Mathematics (available wherever good books are

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