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Top Chef Mathematics

If you like food, Washington DC, hubris, or reality television, then chances are you are a fan of Bravo’s cooking competition Top Chef. Every year the show takes a group of aspiring chefs, places them in a house in a new city, and throws weekly challenges their way. Following the Survivor template, every week one chef is voted off, and at the end someone is crowned Top Chef (and given a large check). This season, the action takes place in our nation’s capitol.

Now, a show such as this might seem to have very little to do with mathematics. But look, and ye shall find. In the second episode of this past season, the chefs were paired up for one of the challenges. There were 16 chefs at the time, combining to make 8 pairs. The pairing was determined by drawing knives: 16 knives were . . . → Read More: Top Chef Mathematics

The Housekeeper and the Professor

Some time ago, I heard about a book from Japan called The Housekeeper and the Professor, written by Yoko Ogawa in 2003 and translated by Stephen Snyder last year. As the title suggests, the book centers on the relationship between a housekeeper, her son, and a math professor. The main conceit of the book is that the Professor suffered an accident some years before that impaired his memory, so that his short term memory only lasts around 80 minutes. In other words, every day the housekeeper and her son come to visit the professor, it is as if they are meeting him for the first time. He copes by clipping small notes to his clothing, and in spite of his disability he still dabbles in mathematics.

One part Memento, one part A Beautiful Mind, the book was named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and was popular . . . → Read More: The Housekeeper and the Professor

Let’s Make a Deal with Paul the Octopus

As summer reaches its midpoint, we come to the end of another rousing year of World Cup soccer. As with any international sporting event, fans all over the world have undoubtedly had their share of ups and downs. Of all the countries in this year’s tournament, however, I think Germany may be receiving the most attention, for even though they didn’t make it into the finals, the Germans have one thing no other country has: a precognitive octopus.

At least, that is what the media would have us believe. For the past several weeks, Paul the Octopus has captured the hearts, minds, and stomachs of people around the world. He’s a charming octopus, to be sure, but it isn’t his good looks that have gotten him this far. Instead, it’s his seeming ability to correctly predict the outcome of soccer matches. As time has gone on and Paul’s predictions have . . . → Read More: Let’s Make a Deal with Paul the Octopus

A New Birthday Problem

Last week, Slashdot posted an interesting link to a problem posed at the most recent Gathering 4 Gardner, a mathematical (or perhaps I should say mathemagical) convention created in honor of the late Martin Gardner. The question, posed by Gary Foshee, is as follows: you have a friend with two children, one of whom is a boy born on a Tuesday. What is the probability that the other child is a boy?

Forget about the Tuesday fact for a moment – if you have a friend with two children, one of whom is a boy, what is the probability that the other child is a boy? You might expect that the answer should be 50%, since the sex of one child shouldn’t affect the sex of the other. But this is not quite right, because you’re not told whether the boy is the older or younger child.

There are only . . . → Read More: A New Birthday Problem