# Probability

## Fractions and Felonies

(A new question of the week) A recent question involved a word problem about fractions, which will fit in nicely with the current series on fractions. We’ll explore several ways to solve a rather tricky fraction word problem, some avoiding fractions as much as possible, some focusing on the meaning of the fractions, and others …

## Interpreting Probability Questions

(A new question of the week) A couple recent questions centered around how to interpret probability problems, whose wording can often be subtle, and whose solutions require care.

## Writing a Proof: Substance, then Style

(A new question of the week) A question from last month provides an opportunity to show how to develop an algebraic proof of a combinatorial identity involving factorials. We’ll be looking over Doctor Rick’s shoulder as he guides a student through the maze. I’ll also add in a previously published version of the same proof …

## Broken Sticks, Triangles, and Probability II

Last week, we looked at two solutions to the problem of finding the probability that you can make a triangle using three pieces of a stick, if we cut it at two independently chosen, random locations. This time, we look another solution to that problem, and a similar solution to the version in which we …

## Broken Sticks, Triangles, and Probability I

This week we look at questions about how likely it is that you can make a triangle out of three random pieces of a stick. As always in probability, the first issue comes in deciding how the process is to be done (that is, what does it mean to break a stick randomly?); we’ll also …

## Polygons and Handshakes

We’ll spend the next couple weeks looking at various counting problems. This topic, called combinatorics, is often studied along with probability, but many of the topics we’ll see here feel more like geometry problems! Here, we’ll be counting the diagonals of a polygon, and handshakes between people at a party. Counting diagonals We’ll start with …

## Bayes and Virus Testing

News about testing for viruses has reminded me of a couple problems that I linked to some time ago, but never dealt with directly. The question is, given data such as the result of a (fallible) blood or swab test, how sure can we be of the results? The answer is sometimes surprising. False positives …

## Combinatorics and Coefficients

(A new question of the week) A question from last August gave us some nice problems reminiscent of the Binomial Theorem, which were very deserving of discussion. Three problems The question came from Arsh: I have some coefficient problems which I am unable to solve. I don’t know if a single concept will work for …

## Rank of a Binary Number

(A new question of the week) A few months ago, I wrote about Ranking a Word Among Its Permutations, that is, finding where a word would be found in an ordered list of all possible “words” made by permuting its letters. The problem in general requires a (sometimes lengthy) algorithm. A month or so later, …

## More About Independent Events

Last time, we looked at the basic definition of independent events. This time I want to explore some deeper questions about the concept. Independence by the numbers We’ve seen that, informally, we think of independent events as not affecting one another’s probabilities. Mathematically, though, independence is defined by the fact (which is implied by that …