Browsing category algebra

The Involution of Polynomials

Last time out, I looked at a problem unearthed by @mathsjem - to find the cube root of a degree-six polynomial. This led (unsurprisingly) to a quadratic: $3 + 4x - 2x^2$. When checking whether this was indeed the answer, I hit a problem: is there a simple way to

Read More

The Evolution of Polynomials

It's always fascinating to see what's going on in textbooks of the olden days, and National Treasure @mathsjem recently found a beauty of its type. Look at those whences! Check out the subjunctives! It thrills the heart, doesn't it?1 What caught my attention, though, was evolution - in this context,

Read More

A RITANGLE problem

When RITANGLE advises you to use technology to answer a question, you know it's going to get messy. So, with some trepidation, here goes: (As usual, everything below the line may contain spoilers.) It's easy enough to do this in Geogebra - but somehow a little bit unsatisfactory to move

Read More

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

Read More

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

Read More

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

Read More

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

Read More

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

Read More

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

Read More

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...

Read More

Sign up for the Sum Comfort newsletter and get a free e-book of mathematical quotations.

No spam ever, obviously.

Where do you teach?

I teach in my home in Abbotsbury Road, Weymouth.

It's a 15-minute walk from Weymouth station, and it's on bus routes 3, 8 and X53. On-road parking is available nearby.

On twitter