Pandemic Blues? Keep Sharp With Math Mind-Benders

April 23, 2020

If you’re like me, you’re looking for constructive things to do during this pandemic. I’ve already purged my home of unnecessary items and created trash, donate and recycle piles (I saved every single cord from electronics that have long since given up the ghost. I also found it necessary to keep every cellphone I’ve had since 1995). I’ve binged a few shows and am all caught up on the entire Marvel series on Netflix -- “The Punisher” is my favorite. I’ve tried a few apps to pass the time but I’m just not into that sort of thing. Then I came across an interesting challenge from Manhattan, New York-based National Museum of Mathematics: Mind-Benders for the Quarantined.

Mind-Benders for the Quarantined contains weekly puzzles from the collection of the Museum’s puzzle master, Dr. Peter Winkler. You sign up via email and every Sunday they send you a mind-bender. On Tuesday, you'll receive a subtle hint; on Thursday, a serious push; on Saturday, the solution. And the next day, of course, a new puzzle.

Truthfully, I’m not certain I am smart enough to successfully compete but I know Chemical Processing readers are up for the challenge. To entice you, here is a past mind-bender:

A combination lock with three dials, each numbered 1 through 8, is defective in that you only need to get two of the numbers right to open the lock. (For example, suppose the true combination is 4-2-7. Then 4-2-7 would open the lock, but so would 4-2-5, 4-2-2,
8-2-7 or 4-6-7. But not 2-4-7.)

What is the minimum number of (three-number) combinations you need
to try in order to be sure of opening the lock?

If you’re stumped, you can email me at [email protected] and I will give you the hints. If that doesn’t help, you can email me again and I will send the solution.

You can sign up to receive the next puzzle here. While there, you will see that they also offer a variety of online math programs to keep children and adults engaged.

“During these challenging times, we want to offer the public fun, interactive experiences that continue to highlight the joy of mathematics,” said Cindy Lawrence, CEO and executive director of MoMath. “Our digital programs provide people of all ages a much-needed outlet for recreation and learning while they are spending time at home. We will continue to develop online programs over the coming weeks as this situation evolves."

Check out the oodles of events here: https://momath.org/upcoming-events/.

The April 24 event piqued my interest -- The Joy of Mistakes. The description is something I will adapt when my editor asks me why I screwed up. “…. mistakes are not bugs, but features. Mistakes often lead to new ideas and new ways of thinking about things. What happens if we add fractions the ‘wrong’ way? In elementary school, we’d get corrected. As mathematicians, we enter a world of wonders.”

However, I doubt the folks in Rhode Island will ever consider it a world of wonder that I misplaced their state on a map. This was years ago but I still cringe. Come to think of it, maybe I should look for geography challenges to help me pass the time.

Traci Purdum is sheltering in place in Cleveland, Ohio, with her two dogs and husband. She has a box full of old electronics cords if you’re interested. She also would love to discuss math, geography and Marvel with you. 

About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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