Kiss those Math Headaches GOODBYE!

Archive for the ‘Great Mathematicians’ Category

Who Invented the Coordinate Plane?

A fly …

Who would think that a mere fly could play a major role in the history of human thought?

But when it comes to the development of Algebra, that’s the story. I’ll explain how this works just a bit later in this blog. But it is all related to what is happening now in algebra classes all around the world.

For it’s spring, that time of year again when we get out the graph paper and the ruler. Kids are working on the Cartesian coordinate plane.

One about I like about the coordinate plane is that there’s an interesting story about how it was discovered, or should I say, invented. [Hard to know the right word for an intellectual Invention like the coordinate plane.]

Play a game, meet John Nash

This blog post falls into the category of “pure fun,” at least for people who enjoy board games.

Here’s a board game that is easy to learn, fun to play, enjoyed by people of all ages, and best of all — invented by two world-class mathematicians: Piet Hein and John Nash.

The game is generally called Hex*, and you can even play it online.

The rules of Hex are so easy that anyone can grasp them fast. They are: use game tokens to create an unbroken path that goes from one side of the game board to the other. You get to put down one token on every turn, and players alternate putting them down. Tokens, once put down, cannot be taken off the board. Tokens do not kill other tokens, jump or move in any other way. Their sole purpose is to be part of a path that traverses the board.

Of course, as one player tries to go from his side of the board to the other, the other player tries to do the same, but from her side of the board to the other. As you defend against the other player’s path, you start to make your own path. Very interesting.

The best thing to do with this game, though, is just play it. To that end, go to any site online that has the game. I recommend either of these sites:

This one allows you to play on a 7×7 board, and it has background info on the game and some strategy tips.

This one lets you play on a board that is 11 x 11, and it allows you to record your moves and get a record of your moves, for study.

I have brought Hex — along with checkers, go and chess — to various “Games Nights” that I have organized and run at local schools and rec centers. Invariably more people end up playing Hex than any of the other games. It has a sort of magnetic attraction quality to it.

Try it and see for yourself.

* One note about the name. The story goes that Nash invented the game one night while sitting on the “john” in a bathroom at Princeton. The floor of the bathroom, tiled in hexagons, gave Nash the idea for the game. So the game is sometimes affectionately called “John” in honor of both the inventor and place of discovery.

P.S.: For a good book about the game, check out Hex Strategy by Cameron Browne. I got my copy through Amazon. The book also has templates that allow you to create your own physical game boards. It also brings out many of the mathematical ways of looking at the game.

See a world-class mathematician

It’s not every day that you can see a great mathematician giving a lecture. But thanks to the power of today’s technology, you can do that right now.

Terence Tao, winner of the prestigious Fields Medal (like a Nobel for math), has been compared to some of the greatest mathematicians of all time, like Carl Friedrich Gauss and Leonhard Euler. And as you will see, he has so much of his life yet to live.

Here is a lecture Terence Tao gave at UCLA on the distribution of prime numbers, an interesting area of number theory.

If you’d like to learn more about the hunt for very large prime numbers,
click here.