My Best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles

My Best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles

by Martin Gardner

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Over a period of 25 years as author of the Mathematical Games column for Scientific American, Martin Gardner devoted a column every six months or so to short math problems or puzzles. He was especially careful to present new and unfamiliar puzzles that had not been included in such classic collections as those by Sam Loyd and Henry Dudeney. Later, these

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Over a period of 25 years as author of the Mathematical Games column for Scientific American, Martin Gardner devoted a column every six months or so to short math problems or puzzles. He was especially careful to present new and unfamiliar puzzles that had not been included in such classic collections as those by Sam Loyd and Henry Dudeney. Later, these puzzles were published in book collections, incorporating reader feedback on alternate solutions or interesting generalizations.
The present volume contains a rich selection of 70 of the best of these brain teasers, in some cases including references to new developments related to the puzzle. Now enthusiasts can challenge their solving skills and rattle their egos with such stimulating mind-benders as The Returning Explorer, The Mutilated Chessboard, Scrambled Box Tops, The Fork in the Road, Bronx vs. Brooklyn, Touching Cigarettes, and 64 other problems involving logic and basic math. Solutions are included.

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Dover Publications
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Dover Recreational Math Series
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5.42(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.26(d)
Age Range:
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My Best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles

By Martin Gardner

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1994 Martin Gardner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-32032-8



1. The Returning Explorer

An old riddle runs as follows. An explorer walks one mile due south, turns and walks one mile due east, turns again and walks one mile due north. He finds himself back where he started. He shoots a bear. What color is the bear? The time-honored answer is: "White," because the explorer must have started at the North Pole. But not long ago someone made the discovery that the North Pole is not the only starting point that satisfies the given conditions! Can you think of any other spot on the globe from which one could walk a mile south, a mile east, a mile north and find himself back at his original location?

2. Draw Poker

Two men play a game of draw poker in the following curious manner. They spread a deck of 52 cards face up on the table so that they can see all the cards. The first player draws a hand by picking any five cards he chooses. The second player does the same. The first player now may keep his original hand or draw up to five cards. His discards are put aside out of the game. The second player may now draw likewise. The person with the higher hand then wins. Suits have equal value, so that two flushes tie unless one is made of higher cards. After a while the players discover that the first player can always win if he draws his first hand correctly. What hand must this be?

3. The Mutilated Chessboard

The props for this problem are a chessboard and 32 dominoes. Each domino is of such size that it exactly covers two adjacent squares on the board. The 32 dominoes therefore can cover all 64 of the chessboard squares. But now suppose we cut off two squares at diagonally opposite corners of the board and discard one of the dominoes. Is it possible to place the 31 dominoes on the board so that all the remaining 62 squares are covered? If so, show how it can be done. If not, prove it impossible.

4. The Fork in the Road

Here's a recent twist on an old type of logic puzzle. A logician vacationing in the South Seas finds himself on an island inhabited by the two proverbial tribes of liars and truth-tellers. Members of one tribe always tell the truth, members of the other always lie. He comes to a fork in a road and has to ask a native bystander which branch he should take to reach a village. He has no way of telling whether the native is a truth-teller or a liar. The logician thinks a moment, then asks one question only. From the reply he knows which road to take. What question does he ask?

5. Scrambled Box Tops

Imagine that you have three boxes, one containing two black marbles, one containing two white marbles, and the third, one black marble and one white marble. The boxes were labeled for their contents—BB, WW and BW—but someone has switched the labels so that every box is now incorrectly labeled. You are allowed to take one marble at a time out of any box, without looking inside, and by this process of sampling you are to determine the contents of all three boxes. What is the smallest number of drawings needed to do this?

6. Cutting the Cube

A carpenter, working with a buzz saw, wishes to cut a wooden cube, three inches on a side, into 27 one-inch cubes. He can do this easily by making six cuts through the cube, keeping the pieces together in the cube shape. Can he reduce the number of necessary cuts by rearranging the pieces after each cut?

7. Bronx vs. Brooklyn

A young man lives in Manhattan near a subway express station. He has two girl friends, one in Brooklyn, one in The Bronx. To visit the girl in Brooklyn he takes a train on the downtown side of the platform; to visit the girl in The Bronx he takes a train on the uptown side of the same platform. Since he likes both girls equally well, he simply takes the first train that comes along. In this way he lets chance determine whether he rides to The Bronx or to Brooklyn. The young man reaches the subway platform at a random moment each Saturday afternoon. Brooklyn and Bronx trains arrive at the station equally often—every 10 minutes. Yet for some obscure reason he finds himself spending most of his time with the girl in Brooklyn: in fact on the average he goes there nine times out of ten. Can you think of a good reason why the odds so heavily favor Brooklyn?

8. The Early Commuter

A commuter is in the habit of arriving at his suburban station each evening exactly at five o'clock. His wife always meets the train and drives him home. One day he takes an earlier train, arriving at the station at four. The weather is pleasant, so instead of telephoning home he starts walking along the route always taken by his wife. They meet somewhere on the way. He gets into the car and they drive home, arriving at their house ten minutes earlier than usual. Assuming that the wife always drives at a constant speed, and that on this occasion she left just in time to meet the five o'clock train, can you determine how long the husband walked before he was picked up?

9. The Counterfeit Coins

In recent years a number of clever coin-weighing or ball-weighing problems have aroused widespread interest. Here is a new and charmingly simple variation. You have 10 stacks of coins, each consisting of 10 half-dollars. One entire stack is counterfeit, but you do not know which one. You do know the weight of a genuine half-dollar and you are also told that each counterfeit coin weighs one gram more than it should. You may weigh the coins on a pointer scale. What is the smallest number of weighings necessary to determine which stack is counterfeit?

10. The Touching Cigarettes

Four golf balls can be placed so that each ball touches the other three. Five half-dollars can be arranged so that each coin touches the other four.

Is it possible to place six cigarettes so that each touches the other five? The cigarettes must not be bent or broken.

11. Two Ferryboats

Two ferryboats start at the same instant from opposite sides of a river, traveling across the water on routes at right angles to the shores. Each travels at a constant speed, but one is faster than the other. They pass at a point 720 yards from the nearest shore. Both boats remain in their slips for 10 minutes before starting back. On the return trips they meet 400 yards from the other shore.

How wide is the river?

12. Guess the Diagonal

A rectangle is inscribed in the quadrant of a circle as shown. Given the unit distances indicated, can you accurately determine the length of the diagonal AC?

Time limit: one minute!

13. Cross the Network

One of the oldest of topological puzzles, familiar to many a schoolboy, consists of drawing a continuous line across the closed network shown so that the line crosses each of the 16 segments of the network only once. The curved line shown here does not solve the puzzle because it leaves one segment uncrossed. No "trick" solutions are allowed, such as passing the line through a vertex or along one of the segments, folding the paper and so on.

It is not difficult to prove that the puzzle cannot be solved on a plane surface. Two questions: Can it be solved on the surface of a sphere? On the surface of a torus (doughnut)?

14. The 12 Matches

Assuming that a match is a unit of length, it is possible to place 12 matches on a plane in various ways to form polygons with integral areas. The illustration shows two such polygons: a square with an area of nine square units, and a cross with an area of five.

The problem is this: Use all 12 matches (the entire length of each match must be used) to form in similar fashion the perimeter of a polygon with an area of exactly four square units.

15. Hole in the Sphere

This is an incredible problem—incredible because it seems to lack sufficient data for a solution. A cylindrical hole six inches long has been drilled straight through the center of a solid sphere. What is the volume remaining in the sphere?

16. The Amorous Bugs

Four bugs—A, B, C and D—occupy the corners of a square 10 inches on a side. A and C are male, B and D are female. Simultaneously A crawls directly toward B, B toward C, C toward D and D toward A. If all four bugs crawl at the same constant rate, they will describe four congruent logarithmic spirals which meet at the center of the square.

How far does each bug travel before they meet? The problem can be solved without calculus.

17. How Many Children?

"I hear some youngsters playing in the backyard," said Jones, a graduate student in mathematics. "Are they all yours?"

"Heavens, no," exclaimed Professor Smith, the eminent number theorist. "My children are playing with friends from three other families in the neighborhood, although our family happens to be largest. The Browns have a smaller number of children, the Greens have a still smaller number, and the Blacks the smallest of all."

"How many children are there altogether?" asked Jones.

"Let me put it this way," said Smith. "There are fewer than 18 children, and the product of the numbers in the four families happens to be my house number which you saw when you arrived."

Jones took a notebook and pencil from his pocket and started scribbling. A moment later he looked up and said, "I need more information. Is there more than one child in the Black family?"

As soon as Smith replied, Jones smiled and correctly stated the number of children in each family.

Knowing the house number and whether the Blacks had more than one child, Jones found the problem trivial. It is a remarkable fact, however, that the number of children in each family can be determined solely on the basis of the information given above!

18. The Twiddled Bolts

Two identical bolts are placed together so that their helical grooves intermesh. If you move the bolts around each other as you would twiddle your thumbs, holding each bolt firmly by the head so that it does not rotate and twiddling them in the direction shown, will the heads (a) move inward, (b) move outward, or (c) remain the same distance from each other? The problem should be solved without resorting to actual test.

19. The Flight around the World

A group of airplanes is based on a small island. The tank of each plane holds just enough fuel to take it halfway around the world. Any desired amount of fuel can be transferred from the tank of one plane to the tank of another while the planes are in flight. The only source of fuel is on the island, and for the purposes of the problem it is assumed that there is no time lost in refueling either in the air or on the ground.

What is the smallest number of planes that will ensure the flight of one plane around the world on a great circle, assuming that the planes have the same constant ground speed and rate of fuel consumption and that all planes return safely to their island base?

20. The Repetitious Number

An unusual parlor trick is performed as follows. Ask spectator A to jot down any three-digit number, and then to repeat the digits in the same order to make a six-digit number (e.g., 394,394). With your back turned so that you cannot see the number, ask A to pass the sheet of paper to spectator B, who is requested to divide the number by 7.

"Don't worry about the remainder," you tell him, "because there won't be any." B is surprised to discover that you are right (e.g., 394,394 divided by 7 is 56,342). Without telling you the result, he passes it on to spectator C, who is told to divide it by 11. Once again you state that there will be no remainder, and this also proves correct (56,342 divided by 11 is 5,122).

With your back still turned, and no knowledge whatever of the figures obtained by these computations, you direct a fourth spectator, D, to divide the last result by 13. Again the division comes out even (5,122 divided by 13 is 394). This final result is written on a slip of paper which is folded and handed to you. Without opening it you pass it on to spectator A.

"Open this," you tell him, "and you will find your original three-digit number."

Prove that the trick cannot fail to work regardless of the digits chosen by the first spectator.

21. The Colliding Missiles

Two missiles speed directly toward each other, one at 9,000 miles per hour and the other at 21,000 miles per hour. They start 1,317 miles apart. Without using pencil and paper, calculate how far apart they are one minute before they collide.

22. The Sliding Pennies

Six pennies are arranged on a flat surface as shown in the top picture. The problem is to move them into the formation depicted at bottom in the smallest number of moves. Each move consists in sliding a penny, without disturbing any of the other pennies, to a new position in which it touches two others. The coins must remain flat on the surface at all times.

23. Handshakes and Networks

Prove that at a recent convention of biophysicists the number of scientists in attendance who shook hands an odd number of times is even. The same problem can be expressed graphically as follows. Put as many dots (biophysicists) as you wish on a sheet of paper. Draw as many lines (handshakes) as you wish from any dot to any other dot. A dot can "shake hands" as often as you please, or not at all. Prove that the number of dots with an odd number of lines joining them is even.

24. The Triangular Duel

Smith, brown and Jones agree to fight a pistol duel under the following unusual conditions. After drawing lots to determine who fires first, second and third, they take their places at the corners of an equilateral triangle. It is agreed that they will fire single shots in turn and continue in the same cyclic order until two of them are dead. At each turn the man who is firing may aim wherever he pleases. All three duelists know that Smith always hits his target, Brown is 80 per cent accurate and Jones is 50 per cent accurate.

Assuming that all three adopt the best strategy, and that no one is killed by a wild shot not intended for him, who has the best chance to survive? A more difficult question: What are the exact survival probabilities of the three men?

25. Crossing the Desert

An unlimited supply of gasoline is available at one edge of a desert 800 miles wide, but there is no source on the desert itself. A truck can carry enough gasoline to go 500 miles (this will be called one "load"), and it can build up its own refueling stations at any spot along the way. These caches may be any size, and it is assumed that there is no evaporation loss.

What is the minimum amount (in loads) of gasoline the truck will require in order to cross the desert? Is there a limit to the width of a desert the truck can cross?

26. Lord Dunsany's Chess Problem

Admirers of the Irish writer Lord Dunsany do not need to be told that he was fond of chess. (Surely his story "The Three Sailors' Gambit" is the funniest chess fantasy ever written.) Not generally known is the fact that he liked to invent bizarre chess problems which, like his fiction, combine humor and fantasy.

The problem depicted here was contributed by Dunsany to The Week-End Problems Book, compiled by Hubert Phillips. Its solution calls more for logical thought than skill at chess, although one does have to know the rules of the game. White is to play and mate in four moves. The position is one that could occur in actual play.

27. The Lonesome 8

The most popular problem ever published in The American Mathematical Monthly, its editors recently disclosed, is the following. It was contributed by P. L. Chessin of the Westing-house Electric Corporation to the April 1954 issue.


Excerpted from My Best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles by Martin Gardner. Copyright © 1994 Martin Gardner. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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