# Blog

**2017-03-08**

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.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. 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.

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.

### Similar posts

Dragon curves | Harriss and other spirals | MENACE at Manchester Science Festival | The Mathematical Games of Martin Gardner |

### Comments

Comments in green were written by me. Comments in blue were not written by me.

**2016-06-05**

The Game of Life is a cellular automaton invented by John Conway in 1970,
and popularised by Martin Gardner.

In Life, cells on a square grid are either alive or dead. It begins
at generation 0 with some cells alive and some dead. The cells' aliveness in
the following generations are defined by the following rules:

- Any live cell with four or more live neighbours dies of overcrowding.
- Any live cell with one or fewer live neighbours dies of loneliness.
- Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours comes to life.

Starting positions can be found which lead to all kinds of behaviour:
from making gliders
to generating prime numbers.
The following starting position is one of my favourites:

It looks boring enough, but in the next generation, it will look like this:

If you want to confirm that I'm not lying, I recommend the free Game of Life Software Golly.

### Going backwards

You may be wondering how I designed the starting pattern above. A first, it looks like a difficult task: each cell can be dead or alive,
so I need to check every possible combination until I find one. The number of combinations will be \(2^\text{number of cells}\). This will
be a very large number.

There are simplifications that can be made, however. Each of the letters above (ignoring the

*g*s) is in a 3×3 block, surrounded by dead cells. Only the cells in the 5×5 block around this can affect the letter. These 5×5 blocks do no overlap, so can be calculated seperately. I doesn't take too long to try all the possibilities for these 5×5 blocks. The*g*s were then made by starting with an*o*and trying adding cells below.### Can I make my name?

Yes, you can make your name.

I continued the search and found a 5×5 block for each letter. Simply Enter your name in the box below and
these will be combined to make a pattern leading to your name!

### Similar posts

Visualising MENACE's learning | Building MENACEs for other games | MENACE at Manchester Science Festival | The Mathematical Games of Martin Gardner |

### Comments

Comments in green were written by me. Comments in blue were not written by me.

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**2016-03-30**

Take a piece of paper. Fold it in half in the same direction many times. Now unfold it. What pattern will the folds make?

I first found this question in one of Martin Gardner's books. At first, you might that the answer will be simple, but if you look at the shapes made for a few folds, you will see otherwise:

The curves formed are called

*dragon curves*as they allegedly look like dragons with smoke rising from their nostrils. I'm not sure I see the resemblance:As you increase the order of the curve (the number of times the paper was folded), the dragon curve squiggles across more of the plane, while never crossing itself. In fact, if the process was continued forever, an order infinity dragon curve would cover the whole plane, never crossing itself.

This is not the only way to cover a plane with dragon curves: the curves tessellate.

Dragon curves of different orders can also fit together:

To generate digital dragon curves, first notice that an order \(n\) curve can be made from two order \(n-1\) curves:

This can easily be seen to be true if you consider folding paper: If you fold a strip of paper in half once, then \(n-1\) times, each half of the strip will have made an order \(n-1\) dragon curve. But the whole strip has been folded \(n\) times, so is an order \(n\) dragon curve.

Because of this, higher order dragons can be thought of as lots of lower order dragons tiled together. An the infinite dragon curve is actually equivalent to tiling the plane with a infinite number of dragons.

If you would like to create your own dragon curves, you can download the Python code I used to draw them from GitHub. If you are more of a thinker, then you might like to ponder what difference it would make if the folds used to make the dragon were in different directions.

### Similar posts

Dragon curves II | PhD thesis, chapter 2 | Visualising MENACE's learning | Harriss and other spirals |

### Comments

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**2016-03-15**

This article first appeared in
issue 03 of

*Chalkdust*. I highly recommend reading the rest of the magazine (and trying to solve the crossnumber I wrote for the issue).It all began in December 1956, when an article about hexaflexagons was published in

*Scientific American*. A hexaflexagon is a hexagonal paper toy which can be folded and then opened out to reveal hidden faces. If you have never made a hexaflexagon, then you should stop reading and make one right now. Once you've done so, you will understand why the article led to a craze in New York; you will probably even create your own mini-craze because you will just*need*to show it to everyone you know.The author of the article was, of course, Martin Gardner.

Martin Gardner was born in 1914 and grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago and
after four years serving in the US Navy during the Second World War, he returned to Chicago and began writing. After a few years working on
children's magazines and the occasional article for adults, Gardner was introduced to John Tukey, one of the students who had been involved in
the creation of hexaflexagons.

Soon after the impact of the hexaflexagons article became clear, Gardner was asked if he had enough material to maintain a monthly column.
This column,

*Mathematical Games*, was written by Gardner every month from January 1956 for 26 years until December 1981. Throughout its run, the column introduced the world to a great number of mathematical ideas, including Penrose tiling, the Game of Life, public key encryption, the art of MC Escher, polyominoes and a matchbox machine learning robot called MENACE.### Life

Gardner regularly received topics for the column directly from their inventors. His collaborators included Roger Penrose, Raymond Smullyan,
Douglas Hofstadter, John Conway and many, many others. His closeness to researchers allowed him to write about ideas that
the general public were previously unaware of and share newly researched ideas with the world.

In 1970, for example, John Conway invented the Game of Life, often simply referred to as Life. A few weeks later, Conway showed the game to Gardner, allowing
him to write the first ever article about the now-popular game.

In Life, cells on a square lattice are either alive (black) or dead (white). The status of the cells in the next generation of the game is given by the following
three rules:

- Any live cell with one or no live neighbours dies of loneliness;
- Any live cell with four or more live neighbours dies of overcrowding;
- Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes alive.

For example, here is a starting configuration and its next two generations:

The collection of blocks on the right of this game is called a

*glider*, as it will glide to the right and upwards as the generations advance. If we start Life with a single glider, then the glider will glide across the board forever, always covering five squares: this starting position will not lead to the sad ending where everything is dead. It is not obvious, however, whether there is a starting configuration that will lead the number of occupied squares to increase without bound.Originally, Conway and Gardner thought that this was impossible, but after the article was published, a reader and mathematician called Bill Gosper
discovered the glider gun: a starting arrangement in Life that fires a glider every 30 generations. As each of these gliders will go on to live
forever, this starting configuration results in the number of live cells
perpetually increasing!

This discovery allowed Conway to prove that any Turing machine can be built within Life: starting
arrangements exist that can calculate the digits of pi, solve equations, or do any other calculation a computer is capable of (although very slowly)!

#### Encrypting with RSA

To encode the message \(809\), we will use the public key:

$$s=19\quad\text{and}\quad r=1769$$
The encoded message is the remainder when the message to the power of \(s\) is divided by \(r$:

$$809^{19}\equiv\mathbf{388}\mod1769$$
#### Decrypting with RSA

To decode the message, we need the two prime factors of \(r\) (\(29\) and \(61\)).
We multiply one less than each of these together:

\begin{align*}
a&=(29-1)\times(61-1)\\[-2pt]
&=1680.
\end{align*}
We now need to find a number \(t\) such that \(st\equiv1\mod a\). Or in other words:

$$19t\equiv1\mod 1680$$
One solution of this equation is \(t=619\) (calculated via the

*extended Euclidean algorithm*).Then we calculate the remainder when the encoded message to the power of \(t\) is divided by \(r\):

$$388^{619}\equiv\mathbf{809}\mod1769$$
### RSA

Another concept that made it into

*Mathematical Games*shortly after its discovery was public key cryptography. In mid-1977, mathematicians Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman invented the method of encryption now known as RSA (the initials of their surnames). Here, messages are encoded using two publicly shared numbers, or keys. These numbers and the method used to encrypt messages can be publicly shared as knowing this information does not reveal how to decrypt the message. Rather, decryption of the message requires knowing the prime factors of one of the keys. If this key is the product of two very large prime numbers, then this is a very difficult task.### Something to think about

Gardner had no education in maths beyond high school, and at times had difficulty understanding the material he was writing about. He believed, however, that this was a strength and not a weakness: his struggle to understand led him to write in a way that other non-mathematicians could follow. This goes a long way to explaining the popularity of his column.

After Gardner finished working on the column, it was continued by Douglas Hofstadter and then AK Dewney before being passed down to Ian Stewart.

Gardner died in May 2010, leaving behind hundreds of books and articles. There could be no better way to end than with something for you to go
away and think about. These of course all come from Martin Gardner's

*Mathematical Games*:- Find a number base other than 10 in which 121 is a perfect square.
- Why do mirrors reverse left and right, but not up and down?
- Every square of a 5-by-5 chessboard is occupied by a knight.
- Is it possible for all 25 knights to move simultaneously in such a way that at the finish all cells are still occupied as before?

### Similar posts

MENACE at Manchester Science Festival | MENACE | Visualising MENACE's learning | MENACE in fiction |

### Comments

Comments in green were written by me. Comments in blue were not written by me.

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**2015-08-27**

In 1961, Donald Michie build MENACE (Machine Educable Noughts And Crosses Engine), a machine capable of learning to be a better player of Noughts and Crosses (or Tic-Tac-Toe if you're American). As computers were less widely available at the time, MENACE was built from from 304 matchboxes.

Taken from

*Trial and error*by Donald Michie [2]To save you from the long task of building a copy of MENACE, I have written a JavaScript version of MENACE, which you can play against here.

### How to play against MENACE

To reduce the number of matchboxes required to build it, MENACE aways plays first. Each possible game position which MENACE could face is drawn on a matchbox. A range of coloured beads are placed in each box. Each colour corresponds to a possible move which MENACE could make from that position.

To make a move using MENACE, the box with the current board position must be found. The operator then shakes the box and opens it. MENACE plays in the position corresponding to the colour of the bead at the front of the box.

For example, in this game, the first matchbox is opened to reveal a red bead at its front. This means that MENACE (O) plays in the corner. The human player (X) then plays in the centre. To make its next move, MENACE's operator finds the matchbox with the current position on, then opens it. This time it gives a blue bead which means MENACE plays in the bottom middle.

The human player then plays bottom right. Again MENACE's operator finds the box for the current position, it gives an orange bead and MENACE plays in the left middle. Finally the human player wins by playing top right.

MENACE has been beaten, but all is not lost. MENACE can now learn from its mistakes to stop the happening again.

### How MENACE learns

MENACE lost the game above, so the beads that were chosen are removed from the boxes. This means that MENACE will be less likely to pick the same colours again and has learned. If MENACE had won, three beads of the chosen colour would have been added to each box, encouraging MENACE to do the same again. If a game is a draw, one bead is added to each box.

Initially, MENACE begins with four beads of each colour in the first move box, three in the third move boxes, two in the fifth move boxes and one in the final move boxes. Removing one bead from each box on losing means that later moves are more heavily discouraged. This helps MENACE learn more quickly, as the later moves are more likely to have led to the loss.

After a few games have been played, it is possible that some boxes may end up empty. If one of these boxes is to be used, then MENACE resigns. When playing against skilled players, it is possible that the first move box runs out of beads. In this case, MENACE should be reset with more beads in the earlier boxes to give it more time to learn before it starts resigning.

### How MENACE performs

In Donald Michie's original tournament against MENACE, which lasted 220 games and 16 hours, MENACE drew consistently after 20 games.

Taken from

*Trial and error*by Donald Michie [2]After a while, Michie tried playing some more unusual games. For a while he was able to defeat MENACE, but MENACE quickly learnt to stop losing. You can read more about the original MENACE in

*A matchbox game learning-machine*by Martin Gardner [1] and*Trial and error*by Donald Michie [2].You may like to experiment with different tactics against MENACE yourself.

### Play against MENACE

I have written a JavaScript implemenation of MENACE for you to play against. The source code for this implementation is available on GitHub.

When playing this version of MENACE, the contents of the matchboxes are shown on the right hand side of the page. The numbers shown on the boxes show how many beads corresponding to that move remain in the box. The red numbers show which beads have been picked in the current game.

The initial numbers of beads in the boxes and the incentives can be adjusted by clicking

*Adjust MENACE's settings*above the matchboxes. My version of MENACE starts with more beads in each box than the original MENACE to prevent the early boxes from running out of beads, causing MENACE to resign.Additionally, next to the board, you can set MENACE to play against random, or a player 2 version of MENACE.

Edit: After hearing me do a lightning talk about MENACE at CCC, Oliver Child built a copy of MENACE. Here are some pictures he sent me:

Edit: Oliver has written about MENACE and the version he built in issue 03 of Chalkdust Magazine.

Edit: Inspired by Oliver, I have built my own MENACE. I took it to the MathsJam Conference 2016. It looks like this:

#### References

### Similar posts

Building MENACEs for other games | MENACE at Manchester Science Festival | Visualising MENACE's learning | MENACE in fiction |

### Comments

Comments in green were written by me. Comments in blue were not written by me.

@JT: I bought "craft matchboxes" (without the matches inside), but it looks like your bulk normals ones work out cheapers.

Matthew

@Matthew: where do you buy your matchboxes at? Because I need 1296 and the best deal I have found is 1300 for $147.57 two packs of 500 for $49.65 each and three packs of 100 for $16.09 each.

JT

@Matthew: would it still work with the "roll over" rule? or would that just make it run out?

JT

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