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Four Weddings and Some Statistics

When my fiancee was in the midst of the wedding planning, part of her research (or perhaps it was simply a guilty pleasure) involved watching wedding shows on basic cable. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, between stations like WE tv and TLC, there are no fewer than nine different wedding-themed reality shows airing weekly. Many of them are appealing in a rubbernecking sort of way; much like a car crash, the spectacle is too ridiculous to turn away from (I’m looking at you, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding).

Of all of these shows, though, the one that most piques my mathematical interest is TLC’s Four Weddings. Based on a British show with the same name, the premise is as follows: four brides-to-be, unknown to one another, meet and attend each others’ weddings. When one bride gets married, the other three score various . . . → Read More: Four Weddings and Some Statistics

Math Jams

Sorry I’m so late to the party on this one, but I wanted to draw your attention to this NPR article from a couple of months back. It profiles the “Songwriter in Residence” program at the University of Tennessee’s National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (or NIMBioS if you feel like spitting a bunch of letters out of your mouth). The experimental program hires songwriters for one month stints at the Institute, during which time they work with researchers to develop two songs on current scientific/mathematical research. Here’s one of the resident’s performing a song on sexual selection:

While combining the arts with the sciences is nothing new, it’s cool to see a program embrace the intersection of these disciplines with such gusto. Of course, it can be difficult to squeeze educational content out of a song with a science focus, but . . . → Read More: Math Jams

Secure Your Phone with Pretty Pictures

A good friend of mine is moving on up in the world, and to prove it, he recently upgraded his cell phone. His new phone is one of several that has a clever password feature – instead of entering a traditional password, one creates a shape within a 9 point grid, like a miniature connect the dots. Here’s one video explaining the feature:

The rules for the patterns are fairly simple, but to make things crystal clear, let me label the dots in the grid as follows:

Here are the rules constraining the types of patterns you can make:

The pattern must connect at least 4 dots. No dot may be used more than once. The order in which the dots are connected matters. Two dots which are on opposite sides of the grid (e.g. 1 and 9, 2 and 8, 1 and 3) cannot be connected . . . → Read More: Secure Your Phone with Pretty Pictures

Test Taking, Part 3

If you’ll permit me this small indulgence, gentle reader, this week I’d like to return to a topic from last month. More precisely, I’d like to continue the series of posts that discussed how one best ought to prepare for an exam in which all N questions are given beforehand, and one knows that M questions will appear on the exam, of which the student must answer K. In my first post I discussed this problem in the context of preparing essays, while in my second I discussed it in the context of preparing for the US citizenship exam.

Apparently I’m not the only one who thought this a worthwhile problem. This problem has also made an appearance at the fun-filled blog Mind Your Decisions (it’s an excellent discussion, so if this kind of thing suits you, check it out). In the comments section, discussion on this problem continues; in . . . → Read More: Test Taking, Part 3

Addendum to Math Gets Around: The Humanities

Last week we discussed an example of when a mathematical background might prove useful even in the least quantitative of liberal arts courses. More specifically, we asked the question: if a teacher gives you a list of N questions, tells you that M will be on an exam, and you must answer K of the questions given on the exam, what’s the minimum number of questions you should prepare to guarantee that you will be able to answer K of the questions on the exam? (Answer: N + K – M.) We also looked at the question probabilistically – namely, we saw that of the questions appearing on the exam, the number that you’ve prepared for follows a hypergeometric distribution.

As a concrete example I considered the case N = 6, M = 5, K = 3 – in this case, the minimum number of questions you should prepare to . . . → Read More: Addendum to Math Gets Around: The Humanities

Math Gets Around: The Humanities

Unless you’re one of those suckers who goes to a school that administers final exams after the holidays (like I was), the few weeks after Thanksgiving can be quite a stressful time for students. Between exams, final papers, and working out holiday travel plans, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. For students with a quantitative bent, the days are undoubtedly spent in large part trying to memorize formulas or theorems, or on refining their understanding of certain problem-solving techniques that have been covered in their courses.

If your interests are more in line with the humanities, you may think that you are safe from the pull of mathematics. There are occasions, though, when a working knowledge of mathematics can help even in a liberal arts course.

Spicoli certainly could've benefitted from a stronger math background.

Consider the following example. Suppose you’re enrolled in a course for which the . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around: The Humanities

The Futurama Theorem

In case you missed it, Futurama was recently resurrected from beyond the television grave, and this summer it began airing new half-hour episodes on Comedy Central. Although it’s never reached the height of popularity achieved by its older sibling, The Simpsons, Futurama nevertheless has its own share of dedicated fans. Many of those fans appreciate the differences between this show and The Simpsons, the most obvious of which is the former’s futuristic setting and sci-fi influences.

The setting of the show naturally lends itself to math and science jokes, and in this department Futurama does not disappoint. Last week, however, they seriously stepped their game up a notch, by featuring the proof of an original mathematical result as a central feature in the plot of the story.

The mathematics evolves quite organically. In the show, Amy and Professor Farnsworth have created a mind-switching device, which can swap . . . → Read More: The Futurama Theorem

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