Arithmetic

Zero Divided By Zero: Undefined and Indeterminate

Back in January, I discussed the issue of division by zero. There is a special case of that that causes even more trouble, in every field from arithmetic to calculus: zero divided by zero. I’ll look at several typical questions that we answered at different levels. Conflicting rules for division? Let’s start here: Zero Laws …

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Six Distinguishable People in Four Distinguishable Rooms

(An archive question of the week) Last time we looked at some elementary problems in combinatorics, where we counted the number of ways to choose or arrange elements of a set. Let’s look at a somewhat more complicated problem, which will demonstrate issues that come up in interpreting such a problem and in choosing a …

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Permutations and Combinations: An Introduction

We have seen a number of questions recently about combinatorics: the study of methods for counting possibilities. These topics are studied at all levels of mathematical education, from elementary (where they might just be called counting) to high school (where they are often learned along with probability) to college (where they are part of “discrete …

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Greatest Common Divisor: Extending the Definition

Having just talked about definition issues in geometry, I thought a recent, short question related to a definition would be of interest. We know what the Greatest Common Divisor (GCD, also called the Greatest Common Factor, GCF, or the Highest Common Factor, HCF) of two numbers is; or do we? Negative GCD? Here is the …

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A Fermi Problem

(An archive problem of the week) A couple weeks ago, in discussing the value of estimates, I included one example of a (very simple) Fermi problem: one in which it is necessary to invent the data as well as the method of solution. Today, I will examine one answer in which we dug deeper into …

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