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Phantom Tiling

Following on from his previous posts: Bending the Law of Sines, which introduced the idea of tricurves, and a further post on Combining Tricurves, Tim Lexen continues this series of guest posts by looking at some of the structures underlying tricurve tilings.

When we look at simple planar shapes for tiling, usually each shape’s properties and tiling structure are obvious. The framework for the tiling is usually defined by the shape in a straightforward manner. But here we’ll look at the uniquely useful arrangement of the tricurve’s arc centers—which is not obvious—and use this structure to add a dimension to the tiling.

Combining Tricurves

In July, guest author Tim Lexen wrote about his discovery of the tricurve, a shape made of arcs that has some interesting properties. He’s written a follow-up in which he explores them further. For a discussion of tiling with curve-sided shapes in general, see Tim’s MathBlog post.

Tricurves can be combined when the large, convex arc of one fills a concave space of another. A tricurve can be thought of as a shape that fills a concave arc with two smaller arcs of the same total length. In each case the new arcs stay within the boundaries of the original structure: touching the same bounding arc. This could go on repeatedly (see below) but we’ll focus here on joining two tricurves. Like the tricurves, assuming agreeable angles, the combined shape will often be able to tile the plane periodically, non-periodically, and radially with itself and related shapes.

Bending the Law of Sines


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.

The Big Internet Math-Off: Cheering from the sidelines

Photos of all the Big Math-Off competitors

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.

The Mathematical Beauty of the Game SET

Three SET cards, forming a 0-alike SET

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.

Wikiquote edit-a-thon – Saturday, May 12th, 2018

TL;DR: We’re holding a distributed Wikipedia edit-a-thon on Saturday, May 12th, 2018 from 10am to improve the visibility of women mathematicians on the Wikiquotes Mathematics page. Join in from wherever you are! Details below, and in this Google Doc.

Extension and abstraction without apparent direction or purpose is fundamental to the discipline. Applicability is not the reason we work, and plenty that is not applicable contributes to the beauty and magnificence of our subject.
– Peter Rowlett, “The unplanned impact of mathematics”, Nature 475, 2011, pp. 166-169.

Trying to solve real-world problems, researchers often discover that the tools they need were developed years, decades or even centuries earlier by mathematicians with no prospect of, or care for, applicability.
– Peter Rowlett, “The unplanned impact of mathematics”, Nature 475, 2011, pp. 166-169.

There is no way to guarantee in advance what pure mathematics will later find application. We can only let the process of curiosity and abstraction take place, let mathematicians obsessively take results to their logical extremes, leaving relevance far behind, and wait to see which topics turn out to be extremely useful. If not, when the challenges of the future arrive, we won’t have the right piece of seemingly pointless mathematics to hand.
Peter Rowlett, “The unplanned impact of mathematics”, Nature 475, 2011, pp. 166-169.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have every admiration for Peter and his work; his is a thoughtful voice of reason, and it’s not at all unreasonable for the Wikiquote page on mathematics to cite his writing.