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2017-03-27 18:28:11

## The End of Coins of Constant Width

Tomorrow, the new 12-sided one pound coin is released.
Although I'm excited about meeting this new coin, I am also a little sad, as its release ends the era in which all British coins are shapes of constant width.

### Shapes of Constant Width

A shape of constant width is a shape that is the same width in every direction, so these shapes can roll without changing height. The most obvious such shape is a circle. But there are others, including the shape of the seven-sided 50p coin.
As shown below, each side of a 50p is part of a circle centred around the opposite corner. As a 50p rolls, its height is always the distance between one of the corners and the side opposite, or in other words the radius of this circle. As these circles are all the same size, the 50p is a shape of constant width.
Shapes of constant width can be created from any regular polygon with an odd number of sides, by replacing the sides by parts of circles centred at the opposite corner. The first few are shown below.
It's also possible to create shapes of constant width from irregular polygons with an odd number, but it's not possible to create them from polygons with an even number of sides. Therefore, the new 12-sided pound coin will be the first non-constant width British coin since the (also 12-sided) threepenny bit was phased out in 1971.
Back in 2014, I wrote to my MP in an attempt to find out why the new coin was not of a constant width. He forwarded my letter to the Treasury, but I never heard back from them.

### Pizza Cutting

When cutting a pizza into equal shaped pieces, the usual approach is to cut along a few diameters to make triangles. There are other ways to fairly share pizza, including the following (that has appeared here before as an answer to this puzzle):
The slices in this solution are closely related to a triangle of constant width. Solutions can be made using other shapes of constant width, including the following, made using a constant width pentagon and heptagon (50p):
There are many more ways to cut a pizza into equal pieces. You can find them in Infinite families of monohedral disk tilings by Joel Haddley and Stephen Worsley [1].
You can't use the shape of a new pound coin to cut a pizza though.
Edit: Speaking of new £1 coins, I made this stupid video with Adam "Frownsend" Townsend about them earlier today:

#### References

Infinite families of monohedral disk tilings by Joel Haddley and Stephen Worsley. December 2015. [link]

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2017-03-08 03:22:57

## Dragon Curves II

This post appeared in issue 05 of Chalkdust. I strongly recommend reading the rest of Chalkdust.
Take a long strip of paper. Fold it in half in the same direction a few times. Unfold it and look at the shape the edge of the paper makes. If you folded the paper $$n$$ times, then the edge will make an order $$n$$ dragon curve, so called because it faintly resembles a dragon. Each of the curves shown on the cover of issue 05 of Chalkdust is an order 10 dragon curve.
Top: Folding a strip of paper in half four times leads to an order four dragon curve (after rounding the corners). Bottom: A level 10 dragon curve resembling a dragon.
The dragon curves on the cover show that it is possible to tile the entire plane with copies of dragon curves of the same order. If any readers are looking for an excellent way to tile a bathroom, I recommend getting some dragon curve-shaped tiles made.
An order $$n$$ dragon curve can be made by joining two order $$n-1$$ dragon curves with a 90° angle between their tails. Therefore, by taking the cover's tiling of the plane with order 10 dragon curves, we may join them into pairs to get a tiling with order 11 dragon curves. We could repeat this to get tilings with order 12, 13, and so on... If we were to repeat this ad infinitum we would arrive at the conclusion that an order $$\infty$$ dragon curve will cover the entire plane without crossing itself. In other words, an order $$\infty$$ dragon curve is a space-filling curve.
Like so many other interesting bits of recreational maths, dragon curves were popularised by Martin Gardner in one of his Mathematical Games columns in Scientific American. In this column, it was noted that the endpoints of dragon curves of different orders (all starting at the same point) lie on a logarithmic spiral. This can be seen in the diagram below.
The endpoints of dragon curves of order 1 to 10 with a logarithmic spiral passing through them.
Although many of their properties have been known for a long time and are well studied, dragon curves continue to appear in new and interesting places. At last year's Maths Jam conference, Paul Taylor gave a talk about my favourite surprise occurrence of a dragon.
Normally when we write numbers, we write them in base ten, with the digits in the number representing (from right to left) ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, etc. Many readers will be familiar with binary numbers (base two), where the powers of two are used in the place of powers of ten, so the digits represent ones, twos, fours, eights, etc.
In his talk, Paul suggested looking at numbers in base -1+i (where i is the square root of -1; you can find more adventures of i here) using the digits 0 and 1. From right to left, the columns of numbers in this base have values 1, -1+i, -2i, 2+2i, -4, etc. The first 11 numbers in this base are shown below.
 Number in base -1+i Complex number 0 0 1 1 10 -1+i 11 (-1+i)+(1)=i 100 -2i 101 (-2i)+(1)=1-2i 110 (-2i)+(-1+i)=-1-i 111 (-2i)+(-1+i)+(1)=-i 1000 2+2i 1001 (2+2i)+(1)=3+2i 1010 (2+2i)+(-1+i)=1+3i
Complex numbers are often drawn on an Argand diagram: the real part of the number is plotted on the horizontal axis and the imaginary part on the vertical axis. The diagram to the left shows the numbers of ten digits or less in base -1+i on an Argand diagram. The points form an order 10 dragon curve! In fact, plotting numbers of $$n$$ digits or less will draw an order $$n$$ dragon curve.
Numbers in base -1+i of ten digits or less plotted on an Argand diagram.
Brilliantly, we may now use known properties of dragon curves to discover properties of base -1+i. A level $$\infty$$ dragon curve covers the entire plane without intersecting itself: therefore every Gaussian integer (a number of the form $$a+\text{i} b$$ where $$a$$ and $$b$$ are integers) has a unique representation in base -1+i. The endpoints of dragon curves lie on a logarithmic spiral: therefore numbers of the form $$(-1+\text{i})^n$$, where $$n$$ is an integer, lie on a logarithmic spiral in the complex plane.
If you'd like to play with some dragon curves, you can download the Python code used to make the pictures here.

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2017-02-25 14:50:20

## The Importance of Estimation Error

Recently, I've noticed a few great examples of misleading uses of numbers in news articles.
On 15 Feb, BBC News published a breaking news article with the headline "UK unemployment falls by 7,000 to 1.6m". This fall of 7,000 sounds big; but when compared to the total of 1.6m, it is insignificant. The change could more accurately be described as a fall from 1.6m to 1.6m.
But there is a greater problem with this figure. In the original Office of National Statistics (ONS) report, the fall of 7,000 was accompanied by a 95% confidence interval of ±80,000. When calculating figures about large populations (such as unemployment levels), it is impossible to ask every person in the UK whether they are employed or not. Instead, data is gathered from a sample and this is used to estimate the total number. The 95% confidence interval gives an idea of the accuracy of this estimation: 95% of the time, the true number will lie of the confidence interval. Therefore, we can think of the 95% confidence interval as being a range in which the figure lies (although this is not true, it is a helpful way to think about it).
Compared to the size of its confidence interval (±80,000), the fall of 7,000 is almost indistinguishable from zero. This means that it cannot be said with any confidence whether the unemployment level rose or fell. This is demonstrated in the following diagram.
A fall of 7,000 ± 80,000. The orange line shows no change.
To be fair to the BBC, the headline of the article changed to "UK wage growth outpaces inflation" once the article was upgraded from breaking news to a complete article, and a mention of the lack of confidence in the change was added.
On 23 Feb, I noticed another BBC News with misleading figures: Net migration to UK falls by 49,000. This 49,000 is the difference between 322,000 (net migration for the year ending 2015) and 273,000 (net migration for the year ending 2016). However both these figures are estimates: in the original ONS report, they were placed in 95% confidence intervals of ±37,000 and ±41,000 respectively. As can be seen in the diagram below, there is a significant portion where these intervals overlap, so it cannot be said with any confidence whether or not net immigration actually fell.
Net migration in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Perhaps the blame for this questionable figure lies with the ONS, as it appeared prominently in their report while the discussion of its accuracy was fairly well hidden. Although I can't shift all blame from the journalists: they should really be investigating the quality of these figures, however well advertised their accuracy is.
Both articles criticised here appeared on BBC News. This is not due to the BBC being especially bad with figures, but simply due to the fact that I spend more time reading news on the BBC than in other places, so noticed these figures there. I quick Google search reveals that the unemployment figure was also reported, with little to no discussion of accuracy, by The Guardian, the Financial Times, and Sky News.

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2017-01-13 04:32:41

## Is MEDUSA the New BODMAS?

I wrote this post with, and after much discussion with Adam Townsend. It also appeared on the Chalkdust Magazine blog.
Recently, Colin "IceCol" Beveridge blogged about something that's been irking him for a while: those annoying social media posts that tell you to work out a sum, such as $$3-3\times6+2$$, and state that only $n$% of people will get it right (where $$n$$ is quite small). Or as he calls it "fake maths".
A classic example of "fake maths".
This got me thinking about everyone's least favourite primary school acronym: BODMAS (sometimes known as BIDMAS, or PEMDAS if you're American). As I'm sure you've been trying to forget, BODMAS stands for "Brackets, (to the power) Of, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction" and tells you in which order the operations should be performed.
Now, I agree that we all need to do operations in the same order (just imagine trying to explain your working out to someone who uses BADSOM!) but BODMAS isn't the order mathematicians use. It's simply wrong. Take the sum $$4-3+1$$ as an example. Anyone can tell you that the answer is 2. But BODMAS begs to differ: addition comes first, giving 0!
The problem here is that in reality, we treat addition and subtraction as equally important, so sums involving just these two operations are calculated from left-to-right. This caveat is quite a lot more to remember on top of BODMAS, but there's actually no need: Doing all the subtractions before additions will always give you the same answer as going from left-to-right. The same applies to division and multiplication, but luckily these two are in the correct order already in BODMAS (but no luck if you're using PEMDAS).
So instead of BODMAS, we should be using BODMSA. But that's unpronounceable, so instead we suggest that from now on you use MEDUSA. That's right, MEDUSA:
• Mabano (brackets in Swahili)
• Exponentiation
• Division
• Subtraction
This is big news. MEDUSA vs BODMAS could be this year's pi vs tau... Although it's not actually the biggest issue when considering sums like $$3-3\times6+2$$.
The real problem with $$3-3\times6+2$$ is that it is written in a purposefully confusing and ambiguous order. Compare the following sums:
$$3-3\times6+2$$ $$3+2-3\times6$$ $$3+2-(3\times6)$$
In the latter two, it is much harder to make a mistake in the order of operations, because the correct order is much closer to normal left-to-right reading order, helping the reader to avoid common mistakes. Good mathematics is about good communication, not tricking people. This is why questions like this are "fake maths": real mathematicians would never ask them. If we take the time to write clearly, then I bet more than $$n$$% of people will be able get the correct answer.

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2016-12-28 06:49:35

## Christmas (2016) is Over

More than ten correct solutions to this year's Advent calendar puzzle competition were submitted on Christmas Day, so the competition is now over. (Although you can still submit your answers to get me to check them.) Thank-you to everyone who took part in the puzzle, I've had a lot of fun watching your progress and talking to you on Twitter, Reddit, etc. You can find all the puzzles and answers (from 1 January) here.
The (very) approximate locations of all the entries I have received so far are shown on this map:
This year's winners have been randomly selected from the 29 correct entries on Christmas Day. They are:
 1 Jack Jiang 2 Steve Paget 3 Joe Gage 4 Tony Mann 5 Stephen Cappella 6 Cheng Wai Koo 7 Demi Xin 8 Lyra 9 David Fox 10 Bob Dinnage
Your prizes will be on their way in early January.
Now that the competition has ended, I can give away a secret. Last year, Neal suggested that it would be fun if a binary picture was hidden in the answers. So this year I hid one. If you write all the answers in binary, with each answer below the previous and colour in the 1s black, you will see this:
I also had a lot of fun this year making up the names, locations, weapons and motives for the final murder mystery puzzle. In case you missed them these were:
 # Murder suspect Motive 1 Dr. Uno (uno = Spanish 1) Obeying nameless entity 2 Mr. Zwei (zwei = German 2) To worry others 3 Ms. Trois (trois = French 3) To help really evil elephant 4 Mrs. Quattro (quattro = Italian 4) For old unknown reasons 5 Prof. Pum (pum = Welsh 5) For individual violent end 6 Miss. Zes (zes = Dutch 6) Stopping idiotic xenophobia 7 Lord Seacht (seacht = Irish 7) Suspect espied victim eating newlyweds 8 Lady Oito (oito = Portuguese 8) Epic insanity got him today 9 Rev. Novem (novem = Latin 9) Nobody in newsroom expected

 # Location Weapon 1 Throne room Wrench (1 vowel) 2 Network room Rope (2 vowels) 3 Beneath reeds Revolver (3 vowels) 4 Edge of our garden Lead pipe (4 vowels) 5 Fives court Neighbour's sword (5 vowels) 6 On the sixth floor Super banana bomb (6 vowels) 7 Sparse venue Antique candlestick (7 vowels) 8 Weightlifting room A foul tasting poison (8 vowels) 9 Mathematics mezzanine Run over with an old Ford Focus (9 vowels)
Finally, well done to Scott, Matthew Schulz, Michael Gustin, Daniel Branscombe, Kei Nishimura-Gasparian, Henry Hung, Mark Fisher, Jon Palin, Thomas Tu, Félix Breton, Matt Hutton, Miguel, Fred Verheul, Martine Vijn Nome, Brennan Dolson, Louis de Mendonca, Roni, Dylan Hendrickson, Martin Harris, Virgile Andreani, Valentin Valciu, and Adia Batic for submitting the correct answer but being too unlucky to win prizes this year. Thank you all for taking part and I'll see you next December for the next competition.

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2017-02-03
Thanks for the prizes. Fascinating books!
Steve Paget
2017-01-19
I got my prize in the mail today. I really liked the stories from Gustave Verbeek; I thought that was pretty clever. I really appreciate you being willing to send the prizes internationally.

Thanks for setting this all up; I had a lot of fun solving the puzzles every day (and solving half them again when my cookie for the site somehow got deleted). I'll be sure to participate next time too!
SC
2016-12-28
Thanks, Matthew! The puzzles were really fun, and piecing the clues was very interesting too!
Jack