A puzzle from Martin Gardner’s column in Math Horizons, November 1995:
Driving along the highway, Mr. Smith notices that signs for Flatz beer appear to be spaced at regular intervals along the roadway. He counts the number of signs he passes in one minute and finds that this number multiplied by 10 gives the car’s speed in miles per hour. Assuming that the signs are equally spaced, that the car’s speed is constant, and that the timed minute began and ended with the car midway between two signs, what is the distance from one sign to the next?
A group of children are standing outside a room. Each wears a hat that’s either red or blue, and each child can see the other children’s hats but not her own. At a signal they enter the room one by one and arrange themselves in a line partitioned by hat color. How do they manage this without communicating?
Benedict Arnold encrypted his messages to the British Army using Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. Arnold would replace each word in his message with a triplet of numbers representing the page number, line number, and word position where the word might be found in Blackstone. For example:
The 166.8.11 of the 191.9.16 are 129.19.21 266.9.14 of the .286.8.20, and 291.8.27 to be on 163.9.4 115.8.16 114.8.25ing — 263.9.14 are 207.8.17ed 125.8.15 103.8.60 from this 294.8.50 104.9.26 — If 84.8.9ed — 294.9.12 129.8.7 only to 193.8.3 and the 64.9.5 290.9.20 245.8.3 be at an 99.8.14.
British Army Major John André could then look up the words in his own copy of Blackstone to discover Arnold’s meaning:
The mass of the People are heartily tired of the War, and wish to be on their former footing — They are promised great events from this year’s exertion — If disappointed — you have only to persevere and the contest will soon be at an end.
The danger in using a book code is that the enemy can decode the messages if he can identify the book — and sometimes even if he can’t. In the comic strip Steve Roper, a reporter once excitedly telephoned the coded message 188-1-22 71-2-13 70-2-11 68-1-25 19-1-6 112-2-10 99-1-35. Reader Sean Reddick suspected that this message had been encoded using a dictionary, with each triplet of numbers denoting page, column, and word number. He never did discover the book that had been used, but by considering the ratios involved and consulting half a dozen dictionaries he managed to break the code anyway — he sent his solution to a nationally known columnist, who verified his feat when the comic strip bore out his solution. What was the message? (Hint: In the comic, the reporter mentions significantly that the plaintext message was given to him by “the delivery boy.”)
Each point on a straight line is either red or blue. Show that it’s always possible to find three points of the same color in which one is the midpoint of the other two.
John and Mary drive from Westville to Eastville. John drives the first 40 miles, and Mary drives the rest of the way. That afternoon they return by the same route, with John driving the first leg and Mary driving the last 50 miles. Who drives the farthest, and by what distance?
You toss 6 fair coins, and I toss 5 fair coins. What is the probability that you get more heads than I do?
Three players enter a room, and a maroon or orange hat is placed on each one’s head. The color of each hat is determined by a coin toss, and the outcome of one toss has no effect on the others. Each player can see the other players’ hats but not his own.
The players can discuss strategy before the game begins, but after this they may not communicate. Each player considers the colors of the other players’ hats, and then simultaneously each player must either guess the color of his own hat or pass.
The group shares a $3 million prize if at least one player guesses correctly and no player guesses incorrectly. What strategy will raise their chance of winning above 50 percent?
I propose a card game. I’ll shuffle an ordinary deck of cards and turn up the cards in pairs. If both cards in a given pair are black, I’ll give them to you. If both are red, I’ll take them. And if one is black and one red, then we’ll put them aside, belonging to no one.
You pay a dollar for the privilege of playing the game, and then we’ll go through the whole deck. When the game is over, if you have no more cards than I do, you pay nothing. But for every card that you have more than I, I’ll pay you 3 dollars. Should you play this game?
By W.A. Shinkman. This is a self-mate in two moves: White makes a move, Black is allowed to make any legal reply, then White plays a second move that forces Black to checkmate him.
New Year’s Day normally falls one week after Christmas: If Christmas falls on a Thursday, then New Year’s Day will fall on a Thursday as well. What is the most recent year in which Christmas and New Year’s Day fell on different days of the week?
A prison warden greets 23 new prisoners with this challenge. They can meet now to plan a strategy, but then they’ll be placed in separate cells, with no means of communicating. Then the warden will take the prisoners one at a time to a room that contains two switches. Each switch has two positions, on and off, but they’re not connected to anything. The prisoners don’t know the initial positions of the switches. When a prisoner is led into the room, he must reverse the position of exactly one switch. Then he will be led back to his cell, and the switches will remain undisturbed until the warden brings the next prisoner. The warden chooses prisoners at his whim, and he may even choose one prisoner several times in a row, but at any time, each prisoner is guaranteed another visit to the switch room.
The warden continues doing this until a prisoner tells him, “We have all visited the switch room.” If this prisoner is right, then all the prisoner will be set free. But if he’s wrong then they’ll all remain prisoners for life.
What strategy can the prisoners use to ensure their freedom?
Draw an arbitrary triangle and build an equilateral triangle on each of its sides, as shown.
Now show that AP = BQ = CR.
Three hockey pucks, A, B, and C, lie in a plane. You make a move by hitting one puck so that it passes between the other two in a straight line. Is it possible to return all the pucks to their original positions with 1001 moves?
A problem from the 1994 Italian Mathematical Olympiad:
Every inhabitant on the island of knights and scoundrels is either a knight (who always tells the truth) or a scoundrel (who always lies). A visiting journalist interviews each inhabitant exactly once and gets the following answers:
A1: On this island there is at least one scoundrel.
A2: On this island there are at least two scoundrels.
An-1: On this island there are at least n – 1 scoundrels.
An: On this island everyone is a scoundrel.
Can the journalist decide whether the knights outnumber the scoundrels?
This pleasing cryptarithm, by Bob High, appears in the September/October 2014 issue of MIT Technology Review. If each letter stands for a digit, what arithmetic sum is enciphered here?
The Martian parliament consists of a single house. Every member has three enemies at most among the other members. Show that it’s possible to divide the parliament into two houses so that every member has one enemy at most in his house.
Take two decks of cards, minus the jokers, shuffle them together, and divide them into two piles of 52 cards. What is the probability that the number of red cards in the Pile A equals the number of black cards in Pile B? How many cards would you have to view to be certain of your answer?