For me, the above shape emerged when playing with a drawing compass. Of the two ancient tools, I preferred the compass over the straightedge. I was fascinated with the classical geometric constructions, the intersecting circles and arcs. As a simple personality test, preferring a compass over a straightedge might mean something: maybe roundabout-holistic-intuitive more than straightforward-linear-realistic. At any rate, the pursuit of curves eventually led me to this topic, but to explain I need to start with straight lines and triangles.
Benjamin Leis has been giving some top commentary on the Math-Off matches as they happen, on Twitter. We asked him to share some of his thoughts in more detail
We’re almost at the final of the Big Math-Off and I, your humble and slightly quirky commentator, thought I’d take a look back at the highlights so far. First of all, the format itself is genius. Why go to the beach when you could instead be rooting on for your favorite theorem or mathematical phenomenon? But if you somehow have missed any of the rounds so far, the posts live on and you should take the time to read them all.
Rather than exhaustively survey all the entries so far I thought I would highlight a few that struck a chord with me and what about them was interesting. So first up, since I’m involved in running a middle school math club, I’m always looking for ideas that will transfer to that setting. That generally means: ones only requiring inexpensive easy to procure materials, an idea that requires no more than Algebra and Geometry and which also has a good hook and most importantly, but which rules out a few otherwise excellent entries, it needs to be something that I haven’t done already.
If you are like me, you have played the game SET and have probably been perplexed at how quickly some people can play the game! Even as the game is quite easy to explain, it takes some time to build various strategies and pattern recognition to play the game effectively. If you have never heard of SET, don’t fret because we will soon review its layout. For my final masters project at Texas A&M University, we had the autonomy to research any higher-level mathematical topic and I felt SET would be a great venue to tap into some deeper mathematics. Little did I know how truly complex and elegant SET really is with connections to combinatorial geometry, finite affine geometry, and vector spaces over finite fields, some of these problems still open in research-level mathematics. All of these topics (and more) are included in a great resource I highly recommend for some summer reading. Check out The Joy of Set by McMahon, et al. to dig deeper into what is presented below.
You may be aware that our own Christian Lawson-Perfect is running the Big Internet Math-Off here at the Aperiodical, a single-elimination tournament with sixteen competitors. I was knocked out in round one by the brilliant Alison Kiddle. I joked that if Alison went on to win, then I’d be joint second.
The cosmos is rich beyond measure. The number of stars in the universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth.
More or Less come to a fairly standard answer, that Sagan was correct. This sort of problem, which involves approximating unknowable numbers based on a series of estimates, is called a Fermi problem. I’ve written about Fermi problems here before. The More or Less approach to answering this raised a question from a reader of this blog.
But that's less than a factor of 3 difference! For Fermi estimates of numbers of that size, those two answers are essentially the same. It wouldn't take much of an error in either estimate to push sand ahead of stars…