# Strategies

## Factoring Tricks from an Old Textbook

(A new question of the week) Last week I discussed several Ask Dr. Math questions about factoring quartic polynomials, which had been on my list of potential topics. That list also included a question on that topic from three years ago, that didn’t make it into the blog at the time. That will lead us …

## Factoring a Quartic Polynomial

Factoring a quadratic polynomial (degree 2) is a standard topic in algebra; but for higher degrees, things get a lot harder. Here we’ll look at some old questions from the Ask Dr. Math site about factoring quartic (degree 4) polynomials. There is no standard method, but several interesting tricks you might want to know about.

## Two Tricky Questions on Tangent Lines

(A new question of the week) Sometimes we have lots of quick questions and a number of long discussions, neither of which seems suitable for a post. This time I’ve chosen to combine two distantly related questions, one recent and one from several months ago, both involving tangent lines to functions.

## Trig Identities: Where’d That Come From?

(A new question of the week) Proving a trigonometric identity can be a challenge; sometimes even when we read someone else’s proof, we can fail to see how they came up with a seemingly magical step. We’ll look at two such identities here, and consider how to bridge a gap when we are stuck.

## Average Distance Between Two Sets of Points

(A new question of the week) Here we have a different kind of question than usual: A conjecture about distances between points, with a request for confirmation. Normally we like to just give hints to help a student figure something out; this was a request for a theorem that ought to exist, and trying to …

## Two Word Problems About Factors and Sums

(A new question of the week) A couple recent questions involved factoring numbers, in interesting ways. One involves the volume and perimeter of a block of cubes, and the other involves finding numbers with a given HCF (Highest Common Factor) and sum. Both illustrate thinking through a non-routine problem about factors.

## Multiplication, Division, and Powers of Ten

(A new question of the week) We’ve looked in the past at place values, but here we’ll see some tricks for doing multiplication and division with both decimals and large numbers by moving the decimal point around. The first question is primarily a matter of arithmetic, then the second extends it to the algebraic concept …

## Finding a Function Value Recursively

(A new question of the week) May was a particularly good month for interesting questions! Here is one requiring us to find one value of a function, based on an unusual property: If $$a+b=2^x$$, then $$f(a)+f(b)=x^2$$. The problem turned out to be not as hard as it looked, yet the function itself is quite interesting …

## A Random Walk on a Graph

(A new question of the week) It seems that most of the interesting questions recently have been about relatively advanced topics, though commonly in introductory classes. Here, we’ll help a student think through a problem introducing the idea of a random walk on a graph. (“Graph” here doesn’t mean the graph of an equation, which …

## Filling a Cistern: Three Pipes, No Numbers

(A new question of the week) Today we’ll look at a classic algebra word problem: Finding how long it takes to fill a cistern through two pipes, with a drain open. But usually these problems are given with specific numbers, as a simple exercise in algebra. What if it’s all variables? the discussion provides some …