# Ambiguity

## Combinatorics: Multiple Methods, Subtle Wording

(A new question of the week) With few new questions of general interest available this week, I thought I’d go back a few months to a couple little questions on a topic we haven’t dealt with lately, combinatorics. We’ll have one question each on permutations and combinations, showing some subtlety in both the methods we …

## Solving a Triangle: What Went Wrong?

Trigonometry can be a powerful tool for solving sides and angles in triangles. But you have to be careful with it! We’ll look at a classic type of error in solving an SSA triangle, get three explanations, and then see how knowing the context of a question can change our answer – to the point …

## 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 …

## A Test Dilemma: Do As You’re Told, or Do What’s Right?

(A new question of the week) Some questions we get, while small, raise interesting issues. In a question we got last month, there are several little issues pertaining to how the final answer should be chosen; as is often the case, it seems that a diligent student who cares about accuracy might be penalized. This …

## Maximum Volume of a Box: Two Interpretations

(A new question of the week) Often the hardest part of solving a problem is interpreting what it means. Math is precise; human language can be ambiguous, and assumptions can be hidden. Today, we look at a multi-variable calculus problem that looked enough like a classic single-variable maximization problem to fool the reader into not …

## Limits and Derivatives on the Edge

(New questions of the week) We’ve had a number of brief discussions recently, which feel too small on their own for a post; but several happen to be dealing with similar types of issues. These four questions, all from July, involve limits or derivatives at edges or holes in the domain of a function. Let’s …

## The Opposite of Even is Odd … or Not?

(A new question of the week) A recent question raised some interesting issues related to the contrapositive of a logical statement, and how to negate a statement, similar to some past discussions. What universe you are in makes a big difference! Proof by contrapositive The question came from Kalyan, in June: My question is this: …

## Decimals in Word Form: Subtleties

Last time we looked at how to convert a number between decimal and word form. Now we’ll move into some tricky cases such as where to use “and” or a hyphen, to eliminate ambiguity. Do I need a “one”? We’ll start with this, from 2001: Written Form of Decimals What is the CORRECT way to …

## Decimals in Word Form: Basics

We’ve been looking at the place value concept, and writing number in expanded form(s); but how about the word form of decimals? This can be confusing at several points. We’ll start with reading a number and writing its word form, and then do the reverse. Reading decimals: the basics We’ll start with this, from 1997: …