Category Archives: elementary

Sums of powers of digits

Take a number written in decimal, like $25$. Take the sum of squares of its digits: $2^2 + 5^2 = 29$. Can you ever get the number you started with? In fact, no positive natural number greater than one is the sum of squares of its decimal digits. However, 75 is pretty close: $7^2 + […]


Dividing a square into triangles of equal area

Take a square and divide it down a diagonal, dividing the square into two triangles. Drawing the opposite diagonal now divides it into four triangles. In these two examples, we divided a square into an even number of triangles, all with equal area. Can we divide a square into an odd number of nonoverlapping triangles, […]


Sum of squares a square?

The sum of squares of two integers can be an integer. For example, $3^2 + 4^2 = 25^2$. Those are also the legs of a right-angle triangle. This example is special in that the numbers $3$ and $4$ are consecutive integers! Can you find a sum of squares of three consecutive integers that make a […]


Does this product sequence converge?

Consider the following series: \begin{align*} a_1 &= \frac{4}{3}\\ a_2 &= \frac{4}{3}\frac{9}{8}\\ &\vdots\\ a_n &= \frac{4}{3}\frac{9}{8}\cdots\frac{(n+1)^2}{(n+1)^2-1} \end{align*} In other words, $a_n$ is the product of all the numbers of the form $n^2/(n^2 – 1)$ for $n=2,\dots, n+1$. Does $\lim_{n\to\infty} a_n$ exist?


The Smallest Number Paradox

The smallest number paradox goes like this: consider the natural numbers: 0,1,2,3,… . Each can be specified by a string of characters. For example, "0" itself specifies 0. However, on my computer there are only finitely many bits. Therefore, only finitely many numbers can be specified as a string on my computer. In other words, […]


Fibonacci sequence modulo m

The Fibonacci sequence is an infinite sequence of integers $f_0,f_1,f_2,\dots$ defined by the initial values $f_0 = f_1 = 1$ and the rule $$f_{n+1} = f_n + f_{n-1}$$ In other words, to get the next term you take the sum of the two previous terms. For example, it starts off with: $$1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,\dots$$ You can define […]


What is a Liouville number?

An irrational number $r$ is called a Liouville number if for every positive integer $n$ there exists integers $p$ and $q \gt 1$ such that $$| r – p/q | \lt 1/q^n.$$ The requirement that $q \gt 1$ is crucial because otherwise, all irrational numbers would satisfy this definition. Liouville numbers are transcendental. In an […]


All set endomorphisms of a finite field are polynomial

Let $F$ be a finite field. Did you know that given any function $\varphi:F\to F$, there exists a polynomial $p\in F[x]$ such that $\varphi(a) = p(a)$ for all $a\in F$? It's not hard to produce such the required polynomial: $$ p(x) = \sum_{a\in F} \left( \varphi(a)\prod_{b\not= a}(x – b)\prod_{b\not=a}(a-b)^{-1} \prod \right)$$ This works because every […]


Harmonic Numbers

The $n$th harmonic number $h(n)$ is defined as $$h(n) = \sum_{i=1}^n 1/i$$ The harmonic series is the associated series $\sum_{i=1}^\infty 1/i$ and it diverges. There are probably quite a few interesting ways to see this. My favourite is a simple comparison test: $$1/1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + \cdots\\ \geq 1/2 + 1/2 + 1/4 […]


Switching the order of summation

Characteristic functions have magical properties. For example, consider a double summation: $$\sum_{k=1}^M\sum_{r=1}^k a_{r,k}.$$ How do you switch the order of summation here? A geometric way to think of this is arrange the terms out and "see" that this sum must be equal to $$\sum_{r=1}^M\sum_{k=r}^M a_{r,k}.$$ I find this unsatisfactory because the whole point of good […]