This blog is about Simon, a young gifted mathematician and programmer, who had to move from Amsterdam to Antwerp to be able to study at the level that fits his talent, i.e. homeschool. Visit https://simontiger.com
Inspired by the Card Flipping Proof by Numberphile, Simon created his own version of this proof. He made a solitaire game and proved why it would be impossible to solve with an even number of orange-side-up circles. He drew all the shapes in Microsoft Paint, printed them out and spent something like two hours cutting them out, but it was worth it!
If there’s an odd number of orange circles in the middle, then the end pieces are the same, both orange or both white. In both cases the total number of orange circles will also be odd. If there’s an even number of orange circles in the middle, then the ends have to be different (one orange, one white).
In the case of odd number of orange pieces, the ends have to match. In the case of an even number of orange pieces, you would have pieces that point the same way at both ends. “Now we’ve proven that to make this puzzle possible it has to have an odd number of orange pieces”, Simon says.
Why? Imagine a stick figure that always walks to the right, but always faces in the direction of the arrow (as in it can’t go backwards). It would flip every time it reaches an orange circle. Focusing on everything except the ends, if there are an odd number of orange circles, the puzzle pieces would face the other way. Which means that the end pieces are the same, and therefore the end circles are the same. If there are an even number of orange circles in the middle, the puzzle pieces would face the same way. Which means that the end pieces are different, and therefore the end circles are different.
Simon finds this sort of proof easy, but I felt like my brains are going to boil and dripple through my ears and nostrils. He patently exlained it to me several times and types the above explanation, too.
Today, Simon returned to a problem he first encountered at a MathsJam in summer: “Pick random numbers between 0 and 1, until the sum exceeds 1. What is the expected number of numbers you’ll pick?” Back in June, Simon already knew the answer was e, but his attempt to prove it didn’t quite work back then. Today, he managed to prove his answer!
The same proof in a more concise way:
At MathsJam last night, Simon was really eager to show his proof to Rudi Penne, a professor from the University of Antwerp who was sitting next to Simon last time he gave it a go back in June. Rudi kept Simon’s notes and told me he really admired the way Simon’s reasoning spans borders between subjects (the way Simon can start with combinatorics and jump to geometry), something that many students nurtured within the structured subject system are incapable of doing, Rudi said. Who needs borders?
Later the same evening, Simon had a blast demonstrating the proof to a similar problem to a larger grateful and patient audience, including Professor David Eelbode. The first proof was Simon’s own, the second problem (puzzle with a shrinking bullseye) and proof came from Grant Sanderson (3Blue1Brown) on Numberphile.
“Don’t allow any constraints to dull his excitement and motivation!” Rudi told me as Simon was waiting for us to leave. “That’s a huge responsibility you’ve got there, in front of the world”.
Such a pleasant play date last week with another eager learner. Simon shared his GeoGebra skills and some geometrical paper tricks, among other things. It’s heartwarming to see Simon blossom socially, he is growingly attentive to younger kids and generally engaging with people of various ages, as long as they show interest in anything Simon has an understanding of.
Simon’s way to celebrate Helloween: a little demo about how red marker reflects red LED light and becomes invisible. A nice trick in the dark!
We also had so much fun with the blue LED lamp a couple days ago when Simon discovered that it projects perfect conic sections on the wall! Depending on the angle at which he was holding the lamp, he got a circle, an ellipse, a hyperbola and a parabola! Originally just a spheric light source we grabbed after the power went out in the bathroom, in Simon’s hands the lamp has become an inspiring science demo tool.
In the example below, Simon has applied a compression algorithm to a sentence by transforming the sentence into a tree where all the letters have their corresponding frequencies in this sentence. “Can you get back to the sentence? You have to first transform the letters into ones and zeros using the tree (the tree is a way to encode it into ones and zeros that’s better than ASCII)”.