Puzzle corner: Sylvy’s puzzle #5

Cross-reference to puzzle page on my website

Here is my next puzzle! Sorry that it’s been greatly delayed.

I mentioned previously the problem of constructing the midpoint of a given circle, using only ruler and compass. One student solved it nearly immediately (congratulations!), so here I offer a more general problem.

Sylvy’s puzzle #5

Given a parabola in the plane, construct its vertex using straightedge-and-compass construction (sometimes called `ruler-and-compass’ construction).

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Sylvy’s Weekly Puzzle #3, Solution (part II)

Cross-reference to puzzle page on my website

In this post I want to carry on discussing the solution to puzzle #3. Recall that \mathcal{S} denotes the world that Sonic explores in the `Special Stage’. We are thinking of \mathcal{S} as a topological space, upto topological equivalence.

We have already taken a look at the cases of the sphere and the torus, and we had shown that \mathcal{S}  cannot be a sphere and that \mathcal{S} could be a torus. In fact we saw the `map’ of the level: so it really IS a torus! But the question is: `what can we say about \mathcal{S} using only the topological information that sonic can gather?’

The final part of puzzle #3 asked us to see if \mathcal{S} could be a Klein Bottle. A Klein bottle is the topological space obtained by taking a square and gluing together the opposite edges, as in the following diagram on the left. Note that the blue pair are glued together with a twist, while the red pair are glued `straight’.

Gluing the edges of a square to form a Klein Bottle

Well, the answer is `yes’. Let m,n\in\mathbb{N} be such that m is even and n is odd. Let C be a  rectangle which is divided into an m\times n chessboard, coloured as usual so that white squares and black squares alternate. I think of the `bottom’ or `horizontal’ edges as being m-squares long, and the `side’ or `vertical’ edge as being n-squares long. Below on the right is a picture for the case m=5,n=6.

even-by-odd chessboard

even-by-odd chessboard

Gluing the edges of this chessboard together in the way described above results in a Klein bottle which is tiled in the usual `alternating black and white’ pattern that Sonic sees all around him. This shows that \mathcal{S} could be a Klein bottle.

Note that we’ve only taken into account topological information. In later posts I want to tackle the `geometric’ question.

Sylvy’s weekly puzzle #4a

Cross-reference to puzzle page on my website

It seems that my first-year students (who form a large part of the target audience for my puzzles) are unfamiliar with the `countable’ and `uncountable’ terminology that I used in puzzle #4. …oops!

Instead of introducing it now, I’ll give a completely different puzzle which was originally shown to me by a friend (more on this later).

Sylvy’s weekly puzzle #4a

Show by means of a `geometrical drawing’ that


deadline: 11am Monday 9th of November

how to hand-in: send typed solution by email or put hand-written solution into the folder on my office door

prize: I’m very pleased to announce that the winner of this puzzle will get a book of mathematical puzzles!!

webpage: http://anscombe.sdf.org/puzzle.html

Have fun!

Sylvy’s weekly puzzle #4

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This is an old one, but good fun.

Sylvy’s weekly puzzle #4

Let \mathcal{P}(\mathbb{N}) denote the powerset of the natural numbers. For clarity, we will consider 0 to be a natural number. Then the pair


is a partial order: the (weak) ordering is reflexive, antisymmetric, and transitive. But it is very definitely not a total order: given X,Y\in\mathcal{P}(\mathbb{N}) we may have neither X\subseteq Y nor Y\subseteq X. A chain is a subset \mathcal{C} of \mathcal{P}(\mathbb{N}) on which \subseteq is a total order. For example:


is a chain, but note that \mathcal{C}_{0} is countable.

This week’s problem is to find an uncountable chain, that is a subset \mathcal{C} of \mathcal{P}(\mathbb{N}) which is totally ordered by \subseteq and uncountable.

Deadline: 10am Thursday 5th of November

(you can either send your solution by email or put a hand-written solution into the folder on my office door)

Prize: I’m very please to anounce that the winner will get a book of mathematical puzzles!!

Solution class: there will be a class at 10am on Thursday 5th of November in my office to go over the solution to this puzzle.

The webpage for these puzzles is http://anscombe.sdf.org/puzzle.html

Have fun!

Sylvy’s Weekly Puzzle #3, Solution (part I)

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I’m really pleased at the interest the third puzzle has generated! Or maybe I just haven’t been able to stop talking about it… 🙂 Anyway, here is the first part of the solution:

The question asked us to investigate the world about which Sonic runs around in a certain special level. Let’s call that world \mathcal{S}. I want to describe \mathcal{S} as a topological suface. If you’ve not come across this notion before, you might like to think of a few key examples:

  • the (real) plane \mathbb{R}^{2},
  • the open unit disk D^{2}=\{(x,y)\in\mathbb{R}^{2}\;|\;x^{2}+y^{2}<1\}, and
  • the sphere S^{2}=\{(x,y,z)\in\mathbb{R}^{3}\;|\;x^{2}+y^{2}+z^{2}=1\}.

Slightly more exotic examples:

  • the Möbius band,
  • the Torus,
  • (variations on the theme…) multi-handled tori, and
  • the Klein bottle.

Perhaps now isn’t the time for a complete exposition of topological surfaces (okay, I may have got part-way through drafting one…!), that may come later. For the present I just want to say a few words about the Euler characteristic (which is denoted \chi) of a surface, and the formula that goes with it:


The first time I ever heard about this it was in the context of the Platonic solids, as follows.

  • Let’s begin by thinking of a cube. A cube has 8 corners (we’re going to call these vertices), 12 edges, and 6 faces. If V denotes the number of vertices, E the number of edges, and F the number of faces; then we have V-E+F=8-12+6=2.
  • Next, let’s think of a tetrahedron. In this case there are 4 vertices, 6 edges, and 4 faces; thus we have V-E+F=4-6+4=2.

(Can you see where this is going?)

  • Now let’s think of an octahedron. Here there are 6 vertices, 12 edges, and 8 faces; we have V-E+F=6-12+8=2.

You can check that the same formula


holds for the other Platonic solids – but it doesn’t stop there. What about other solids, for example the Archimedean solid the rhombicuboctahedron?

(I picked this one just because it has such a beautiful name.) The formula holds here too: we have V=24, E=48, F=26. Therefore (\star_{2}) holds for this solid:


In fact:

The formula (\star_{2}) holds for all polyhedra that are topologically equivalent to the sphere \mathcal{S}^{2}.

Although I won’t properly define `topological equivalence’ here, let me just say that – roughly speaking – two shapes A and B are topologically equivalent if one can be transformed into the other by continuous shrinking, stretching, bending, twisting, etc. (discontinuous transformations such as tearing or joining are not allowed). Each of the polyhedra discussed above is topologically equivalent to the sphere.

Let’s now think about the surface \mathcal{S} that sonic explores. It is given to us equipped with a vertices/edges/faces structure so we can calculate V-E+F. On \mathcal{S}, each face has four edges and each vertex is the endpoint of four edges. We don’t seem to know how many faces there are, so let n be the number of faces. Then there are 2n edges and n vertices. [Why?] Thus $V-E+F=0$. This shows that \mathcal{S} is not topologically equivalent to a sphere. This is a negative answer to the first part of the puzzle.

On the other hand, \mathcal{S} could be a torus, as shown by the following map for one of these levels:

[Map of a Special Stage in Sonic 3, copyright Sega (fair use of image for educational purposes)]

How does this show that \mathcal{S} could be a Torus? You can see quite easily that the programmers have joined the left edge to the right edge and joined the top edge to the bottom edge. Thus, if Sonic walks off the left edge of the map, he will just pass round to the right edge (without noticing!).  This shape is quite easily seen to be a Torus. This is a positive answer to the second part of the puzzle.

In the third part, I asked about whether \mathcal{S} could be a Klein bottle, and I’ll write a second post with the answer.

[Edit: perhaps it’s unfair to use the map of the level that I found online to argue that \mathcal{S} might be a Torus. In fact the map (plus the description of how the edges are `obviously’ joined together) shows that \mathcal{S} definitely is a Torus. If you didn’t have the map of the level then I think it’s reasonable to simply argue that a Torus can admit a vertex/edges/faces structure as seen in the level (i.e. with `square’ faces joined in fours at vertices). We’ll address the question of whether \mathcal{S} must be a Torus in the second part of this answer, when I’ll also discuss the Klein bottle.]

Sylvy’s weekly puzzle #3

Cross-reference to puzzle page on my website

My students already know that I am setting `weekly’ fun maths puzzles – although they’re not quite weekly! The first two can be found here, and I may well elaborate on them in later posts. For now, I want to discuss puzzle number 3. Remember: this is aimed at undergraduates in the first term of their first year, so please: no spoilers from more knowledgeable folks. 🙂

Sylvy’s Weekly Puzzle #3

This one is a little more `open ended’ than the previous puzzles. The winner will be the best attempt at an `investigative’ solution.

I tried to describe one of my favourite levels on the computer game Sonic to you (in fact I think it was on Sonic 3 – my bad), here is a screenshot:

[Special stage on Sonic 3 Copyright Sega (fair use of image for educational purposes)]

The game is played on a certain kind of `grid’. It’s an infinite two-dimensional grid, like a chessboard but infinite in all directions. No matter where Sonic goes, his world looks like this. My question is:

What can you say about the topology of his world?

Of course, that’s really an unfair question, because it should be asked to students that have studied a bit of topology or graph theory. Let me rephrase it more simply: could the world Sonic inhabits in the bonus level be:

(i) a sphere?

(ii) a torus?

or (harder)

(iii) a Klein Bottle?

Key things to investigate here are: Euler’s formula \chi=V-E+F and the classification of closed surfaces.

Deadline: 10am Thursday 22nd October (either by email or hand-written solutions in the folder on the outside of my office door)

Prize: something edible (several of the prizes from Puzzle #4 onwards will include a book of Mathematical Puzzles!)

Don’t forget: Class at 10am THIS THURSDAY in my office to go over the previous puzzle.

The webpage for these puzzles is http://anscombe.sdf.org/puzzle.html

Have fun!