Math: A Wonderland of Adventure

Math adventures with coins
Math adventures with coins

Christina Sng for Maths@Singapore

For so many, math is daunting and dreary. But for me, it is a wonderland of adventure.

Math is the mother of all sciences. Where would physics be without math? How about astronomy, architecture, engineering, and flight?

The mere rote of math puts off so many minds, young and old. But to properly learn math, all you really need is a mentor who can explain how a problem works before you apply it on variations of the problem and gain the confidence that it can be solved.

Math is a puzzle and if you love puzzles, know that solving problems through deductive thought is essentially the core of mathematics.

Alex Bellos, author of Alex Through the Looking Glass, offers four mathematical ideas to get you started on a mathematical adventure.

Sand flowers

The Y-shaped sand pendulum is a simple device that draws mesmerising, swirling shapes invented by Scottish mathematician Hugh Blackburn in the 1840s.

Blackburn’s pendulum swings side to side and back and forward, so that the sand inside falls in mesmerizing looping patterns called Lissajous figures. You can vary the length and speed of the swing to create different patterns.

The slide rule

The coin puzzle requires both logical deduction and strategic thinking. You take six identical coins and arrange them in two rows. Rearrange them into a hexagon in three moves.

Bellos explains that in each move, “a coin must be slid into a position where it is touching two other coins. You are not allowed to lift the coin off the table, nor slide it over another coin, nor move other coins out of the way.”

The coin in a pub game

Place two identical coins next to each other flat on a table with their heads upright. Roll the coin on the left around the one on the right until it is on the other side.

Bellos poses this question, “which will be the position of the head when the left coin reaches the right side?”

Benford’s law

In Benford’s law, numbers picked at random will conform to a simple numerical pattern.

To demonstrate this phenomenon, Bellos asks you to “open today’s newspaper and make a note of the first number you see. It can be a date, a price, a page number, a percentage, or anything else…if you make a note of all the numbers that appear in today’s paper…about 30% of them will begin with a 1, about 18% will begin with a 2 and only about 5% will begin with a 9.”

Fascinating, isn’t it? For more on this topic, read

Photo by Derrick Treadwell on Unsplash:

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