Figuring It Out: Entertaining Encounters with Everyday Math


This is a book of mathematical stories — funny and puzzling mathematical stories. They tell of villains who try to steal secrets, heroes who encode their messages, and mathematicians who spend years on end searching for the best way to pile oranges.

There are also stories about highway confusions occurring when the rules of Cartesian geometry are ignored, small-change errors due to ignorance of ancient paradoxes, and mistakes in calendars ...

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Hardcover (2010)
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This is a book of mathematical stories — funny and puzzling mathematical stories. They tell of villains who try to steal secrets, heroes who encode their messages, and mathematicians who spend years on end searching for the best way to pile oranges.

There are also stories about highway confusions occurring when the rules of Cartesian geometry are ignored, small-change errors due to ignorance of ancient paradoxes, and mistakes in calendars arising from poor numerical approximations.

This book is about the power and beauty of mathematics. It shows mathematics in action, explained in a way that everybody can understand. It is a book for enticing youngsters and inspiring teachers.

Nuno Crato is a leading science writer and mathematician, whose entertaining essays have won a number of international awards.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
From the reviews:
“All people, including professional mathematicians, should read some of the popular works of mathematics.Taking that as a given, this book should be a bestseller within mathematical circles. It contains a set of short essays about mathematics as it is used in the lives of all people. Generally 3–4 pages in length, the essays are easily understood and will either initiate the lay reader into some of the valuable ways mathematics is used or remind professionals just how valuable their field is to society.” (Charles Ashbacher, MAA Reviews, November, 2010)
“Crato’s presentation is to examine how problems, some challenging and of great importance and some of minor consequence yet thought provoking, have been resolved over the centuries. … Impressively, the essays never get bogged down with complicated mathematical formulae, yet they still provide sufficient detail of the human endeavor and mathematical underpinnings involved, allowing the book to be of interest to both the layperson and the advanced expert. Overall, the stories are amusing, intriguing, insightful, entertaining, and thoroughly enjoyable. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.” (N. W. Schillow, Choice, Vol. 48 (9), May, 2011)
“The present book is about the power and beauty of mathematics. … Nuno Crato … explains things in a way that everybody can follow. Therefore, the book is also directed at school pupils and can inspire teachers. … You can learn interesting details about the life and the research of famous astronomers, mathematicians, engineers and computer scientists … . It is a wonderful book that can help to popularize mathematics and can demonstrate the importance of mathematics in our everyday life.” (Werner H. Schmidt, Zentralblatt MATH, Vol. 1219, 2011)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9783642048326
  • Publisher: Springer Berlin Heidelberg
  • Publication date: 10/8/2010
  • Edition description: 2010
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 227
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Nuno Crato is one of the leading science writers in Portugal. He is a professor of Mathematics at the Technca1 University of Lisbon, current president of the Portuguese Mathematical Society, a researcher in shastic processes, and a well-known science popularizer.
Nuno Crato is the author of several best-selling popular science books and takes a leading role in bringing mathemalics to a wider audience. He is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines and author of radio and TV programmes. Through these channels he brings regularly and to a vast audience a scientific perspective on a wide variety of current news and events.

In 2003 he was awarded the First Prize on the «Raising Public Awareness on Mathematics» competition organized by the European Mathematics Society.

In 2008 the European Union awarded him a European Science Award (ex-Descartes prize). He won the second place as «Science Communicator of the Year».. Previous winners of this prize include Sir David Attenborough and Bill Bryson. The prize statement coined the phrase «Cratos approach» for his science popularizing style. The jury characterized his writings as «easy to read. but also informative and scientifically sound», stressing that they address topics of «major public interest [...] dealt with humour, intelligence and a distinct journalistic style».

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Table of Contents


Everyday Matters

The Dinner Table Algorithm 3

Cutting the Christmas Cake 7

Oranges and Computers 11

When Two and Two Don't Make Four 15

Getting More Intelligent Every Day 19

The Other Lane Always Goes Faster 23

Shoelaces and Neckties 27

Number Puzzles 31

Tossing a Coin 35

The Switch 39

Eubulides, The Heap and The Euro 43

The Earth is Round

How GPS Works 49

Gear Wheels 53

February 29 57

The Nonius Scale 61

Pedro Nunes' Map 65

Lighthouse Geometry 71

Asteroids and Least Squares 75

The Useful Man and the Genius 79

Secret Affairs

Alice and Bob 85

Inviolate Cybersecrets 89

Quantum Cryptography 93

The FBI Wavelet 97

The Enigma Machine 101

Art and Geometry

The Vitruvian Man 107

The Golden Number 111

The Geometry of A4 Paper Sizes 115

The Strange Worlds of Escher 119

Escher and the Mobius Strip 123

Picasso, Einstein and the Fourth Dimension 127

Pollock's Fractals 131

Voronoi Diagrams 137

The Platonic Solids 141

Pythagorean Mosquitoes 145

The Most Beautiful of All 147

Mathematical Objects

The Power of Math 153

Doubts in the Realm of Certainty 157

When Chance Enhances Reliability 161

The Difficulty of Chance 167

Conjectures and Proofs 171

Mr. Benford 173

Financial Fractals 179

Turing's Test 183

DNA Computers 187

Magical Multiplication 191

π Day 193

The Best Job in the World 197

Out of this World

Electoral Paradoxes 201

The Melon Paradox 205

The Cupcake Paradox 207

Infinity 209

Unfair Games 211

Monsieur Bertrand 213

Boy or Girl? 215

A Puzzle for Christmas 217

Crisis Time for Easter Eggs 221

Index 223

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  • Posted November 3, 2010

    Highly recommended

    I knew the Portuguese original book. This is even better! It has more material. It's entertaining, illuminating, full of curious facts and of erudite notes. Without being pedantic, it's full of cultural references and historical notes. Rarely, if ever, I have learnt so much on a single book. I've recommended it to my friends both for them and for their children.

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