The Book Stacking Problem

(An archive question of the week) A recent question asked about a well-known problem about stacking books (or cards, or dominoes) so that the top one extends beyond the base, giving a link to one of many explanations of it – but one, like many, that doesn’t quite fill in all the details. Doctor Rick …

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An Age Proportion Problem: Multiple Methods

(A new question of the week) Some problems can be done either by algebra or by basic arithmetic methods and some creativity; and although algebra generally makes work easier by making it routine, sometimes special-purpose thinking (once you have thought it!) can be quicker. Here we have a problem where a creative method didn’t quite …

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Is That Really a Polynomial?

(A new question of the week) We often see polynomials in a simplistic way, imagining that any function whose graph resembles a polynomial is a polynomial. Much as an attempt to mimic random data often lacks essential properties of genuine randomness, so what we intend to be a polynomial often is not. As we observe …

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How Risks Add Up

(A new question of the week) Real life questions of probability often require information that we don’t have – they become a job for statistics instead. But sometimes just trying some plausible numbers, as in a Fermi problem, can yield interesting results. Here we consider the probability of an injury when kids play near a …

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Probability: Cards vs Dice

(A new question of the week) A couple recent questions involved related subtleties in probability and combinatorics. Both were about apparent conflicts between similar problems involving cards and dice.

Euler’s Formula: Complex Numbers as Exponents

Last week we explored how the polar form of complex numbers gives multiplication a simple geometric meaning. Here we’ll go one more step, and express polar form exponentially, which makes DeMoivre’s theorem trivial, and gives us a simple notation to replace “cis”.