Interrupt your regular math programming to try this fantastic math doodling investigation, and you might even win a prize!

Anna Weltman wrote a math/art book, and Dan Meyer is offering a classroom-size set of them to the winner of his fall contest (deadline Tuesday, October 6, and homeschoolers are welcome, too).

Even if you don’t want to enter Dan’s contest, spirolateral math doodles—or “loop-de-loops”—make a great mathematical exploration.

How to Get Started

To make a spirolateral, you first pick a short series of numbers (1, 2, 3 is a traditional first set) and an angle (90° for beginners). On graph paper, draw a straight line the length of your first number. Turn through your chosen angle, and draw the next line. Repeat turning and drawing lines, and when you get to the end of your number series, start again at the first number.

Some spirolaterals come back around to the beginning, making a closed loop. Others never close, spiraling out into infinity—or at least, to the edge of your graph paper.

For Further Reading

Mike Lawler and sons explore Loop-de-Loops: Part 1, and Part 2.

Anna Weltman appeared on Let’s Play Math blog once before, with the game Snugglenumber. And she’s a regular contributor to the wonderful Math Munch blog.

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Check out this new puzzle book for upper-level high school students & adults:

Thomas Povey is a Professor of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, where he researches jet-engine and rocket technology. In his new book Professor Povey’s Perplexing Problems, he shares his favorite idiosyncratic stumpers from pre-university maths and physics.

These problems “should test your ability to grapple with the unfamiliar,” Povey writes. “You will learn to tease new problems apart, and apply things you already know in ways you had never considered. You have all the tools you need, but you should see what amazing things you can do with them.”

Can You Solve This?

Alex Bellos shared one of Professor Povey’s puzzles in The Guardian. Can you figure it out?

The book starts off with geometry, but most of the chapters focus on various topics from physics. Some of the puzzles are accessible through applied common sense, but for many of them, it helps to have taken an algebra-based (high school level) physics course.

Kitten is just finishing up her physics textbook, and she still has one more year of homeschooling. I’m hoping to work several of these puzzles into our schedule this year. It should be great fun!

Spoiler

If like me you’re a bit rusty on your physics, don’t worry. Each answer is thoroughly explained—in fact, it takes a bit of discipline to close the book and try your hand at each problem before reading on. I wish they’d put the solutions in the back rather than in the main text, to make it easier to browse the problems without reading spoilers.

Speaking of which, here’s the answer to the video puzzle above…

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Have you ever heard of Math Storytelling Day? On September 25, people around the world celebrate mathematics by telling stories together. The stories can be real — like my story below — or fictional like the tale of Wizard Mathys from Fantasia and his crystal ball communication system.

My story begins with an unexpected adventure in pain. Appendicitis sidewhacked my life last week, but that’s not the story. It’s just the setting. During my recovery, I spent a lot of time in the smaller room of my hospital suite. I noticed this semi-random pattern in the floor tile, which made me wonder:

Did they choose the pattern to keep their customers from getting bored while they were … occupied?

Is the randomness real? Or can I find a line of symmetry or a set of tiles that repeat?

If I take pictures from enough different angles, could I transfer the whole floor to graph paper for further study?

And if the nurse finds me doing this, will she send me to a different ward of the hospital? Do hospitals have psychiatric wards, or is that only in the movies?

What is the biggest chunk of squares I could “break out” from this pattern that would create the illusion of a regular, repeating tessellation?

I gave up on the graph paper idea (for now) and printed the pictures to play with. By my definition, “broken” pattern chunks need to be contiguous along the sides of the tiles, like pentominoes. Also, the edge of the chunk must be a clean break along the mortar lines. The piece can zigzag all over the place, but it isn’t allowed to come back and touch itself anywhere, even at a corner. No holes allowed.

I’m counting the plain squares as the unit and each of the smaller rectangles as a half square. So far, the biggest chunk of repeating tiles I’ve managed to break out is 283 squares.

What Math Stories Will You Tell?

Have you and your children created any mathematical stories this year? I’d love to hear them! Please share your links in the comments section below.

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Welcome to the 76th edition of the Math Teachers At Play math education blog carnival — a smorgasbord of links to bloggers all around the internet who have great ideas for learning, teaching, and playing around with math from preschool to pre-college.

By tradition, we start the carnival with a puzzle in honor of our 76th edition. But if you would like to jump straight to our featured blog posts, click here to see the Table of Contents.

[Feature photo above by Michael Cory via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).]

I hear so many people say they hated geometry because of the proofs, but I’ve always loved a challenging puzzle. I found the following puzzle at a blog carnival during my first year of blogging. Don’t worry about the arbitrary two-column format you learned in high school — just think about what is true and how you know it must be so.

I hope you enjoy this “Throw-back Thursday” blast from the Let’s Play Math! blog archives:

One of the great unsolved problems of antiquity was to trisect any angle using only the basic tools of Euclidean geometry: an unmarked straight-edge and a compass. Like the alchemist’s dream of turning lead into gold, this proved to be an impossible task. If you want to trisect an angle, you have to “cheat.” A straight-edge and compass can’t do it. You have to use some sort of crutch, just as an alchemist would have to use a particle accelerator or something.

One “cheat” that works is to fold your paper. I will show you how it works, and your job is to show why …