BraidTiles—A Mathematical Braid Puzzle

We can view braids mathematically as n strings hanging from a horizontal bar.  Each piece of string runs downward and can cross neighboring strings. In the 1920s Emil Artin observed that braids of n strings form an algebraic group. To “multiply” two braids, we append the bottom of one braid with the top of another braid. The identity element in this group…

My First Crossword Puzzle

I recently discovered Phil, an HTML5 crossword puzzle maker (here it is on GitHub). I’ve always wanted to make a crossword puzzle, but it seemed overwhelming. But with Phil, I found it fun and addicting! So, here is my first creation. It has a mathematical theme. I’ve enjoyed solving crossword puzzles off and on over…

Two More Impossible Cylinders

Earlier this year I wrote a couple blog posts about reverse engineering Sugihara’s impossible cylinder illusion. I then wrote it up more formally, and it has appeared in Math Horizons (pdf). The example I gave on my blog and in the article was a cylinder that looked like a circular cylinder but like a square cylinder in the…

Measuring Tapes for Circles and Spheres

I’d like to thank Matt Parker for introducing me to diameter tapes (or D-tapes). These are measuring tapes used by foresters to measure the diameters of trees. The forester wraps the measuring tape around a tree as if measuring the circumference, but the scale on the tape is adjusted so that the measurement gives the diameter…

Gabriel’s paper horn

I just returned from the eleventh Gathering for Gardner. One of the many special things about this unusual conference is that the attendees are strongly encouraged to participate in the “gift exchange.” We were each asked to bring a physical exchange item (one for each of the 350 conference-goers) or to submit a written contribution….

2013: the year of pi

A couple days ago I saw this tweet. This is the year of pi. Arctan2 + Arctan1 + Arctan0 + Arctan3 = pi. #pi @centerofmath @MathJesus1 @CutTheKnotMath @maanow @mathematicsprof — John Molokach (@mathemusician_) September 7, 2013 Pretty cool! Let’s see why Two terms are easy to deal with: and But why is One way to…

Bubble diagrams for functions in LaTeX using TikZ

I am teaching Discrete Math this semester (our intro-to-proof course). One of the topics is functions. Not surprisingly my students and I have to draw “bubble diagrams” for functions between finite sets—and we have to include them in LaTeX documents. Rather than simply sketching them in Adobe Illustrator and importing them as graphics, I decided…

Circular reasoning: who first proved that C/d is a constant?

I just uploaded an article “Circular reasoning: who first proved that  is a constant?” to the arXiv. The abstract is below. It is on a topic that I’ve been thinking about and reading about off-and-on for the last year and a half. I’d be happy to hear people’s thoughts, reactions, and impressions. Abstract. We answer the…

Plato’s approximation of pi?

Today I came across an assertion that Plato used as an approximation of . Indeed, it is not a bad approximation: (although it is not within Archimedes’s bounds: ). Not only had I not seen this approximation before, I had not heard of any value of attributed to Plato. I investigated a little further and…