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Tag: sudoku

censured post : bloggers’ block

Below an up-till-now hidden post, written november last year, trying to explain the long blog-silence at neverendingbooks during october-november 2007…


A couple of months ago a publisher approached me, out of the blue, to consider writing a book about mathematics for the general audience (in Dutch (?!)). Okay, I brought this on myself hinting at the possibility in this post

Recently, I’ve been playing with the idea of writing a book for the general public. Its title is still unclear to me (though an idea might be “The disposable science”, better suggestions are of course wellcome) but I’ve fixed the subtitle as “Mathematics’ puzzling fall from grace”. The book’s concept is simple : I would consider the mathematical puzzles creating an hype over the last three centuries : the 14-15 puzzle for the 19th century, Rubik’s cube for the 20th century and, of course, Sudoku for the present century.

For each puzzle, I would describe its origin, the mathematics involved and how it can be used to solve the puzzle and, finally, what the differing quality of these puzzles tells us about mathematics’ changing standing in society over the period. Needless to say, the subtitle already gives away my point of view. The final part of the book would then be more optimistic. What kind of puzzles should we promote for mathematical thinking to have a fighting chance to survive in the near future?

While I still like the idea and am considering the proposal, chances are low this book ever materializes : the blog-title says it all…

Then, about a month ago I got some incoming links from a variety of Flemish blogs. From their posts I learned that the leading Science-magazine for the low countries, Natuur, Wetenschap & Techniek (Nature, Science & Technology), featured an article on Flemish science-blogs and that this blog might be among the ones covered. It sure would explain the publisher’s sudden interest. Of course, by that time the relevant volume of NW&T was out of circulation so I had to order a backcopy to find out what was going on. Here’s the relevant section, written by their editor Erick Vermeulen (as well as an attempt to translate it)

Sliding puzzle For those who want more scientific depth (( their interpretation, not mine )), there is the English blog by Antwerp professor algebra & geometry Lieven Le Bruyn, MoonshineMath (( indicates when the article was written… )). Le Bruyn offers a number of mathematical descriptions, most of them relating to group theory and in particular the so called monster-group and monstrous moonshine. He mentions some puzzles in passing such as the well known sliding puzzle with 15 pieces sliding horizontally and vertically in a 4 by 4 matrix. Le Bruyn argues that this ’15-puzzle (( The 15-puzzle groupoid ))’ was the hype of the 19th century as was the Rubik cube for the 20th and is Sudoku for the 21st century.
Interesting is Le Bruyn’s mathematical description of the M(13)-puzzle (( Conway’s M(13)-puzzle )) developed by John Conway. It has 13 points on a circle, twelve of them carrying a numbered counter. Every point is connected via lines to all others (( a slight simplification )). Whenever a counter jumps to the empty spot, two others exchange places. Le Bruyn promises the blog-visitor new variants to come (( did I? )). We are curious.
Of course, the genuine puzzler can leave all this theory for what it is, use the Java-applet (( Egner’s M(13)-applet )) and painfully try to move the counters around the circle according to the rules of the game.

Some people crave for this kind of media-attention. On me it merely has a blocking-effect. Still, as the end of my first-semester courses comes within sight, I might try to shake it off…

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768 micro-sudokubes

Ibrahim Belkadi, one of my first-year group theory students invented the micro-sudokube, that is, a cube having a solution to a micro-sudoku on all its sides such that these solutions share one row along an edge. For example, here are all the solutions for a given central solution. There are 4 of them with ${ a,b } = { 2,3 } $ and ${ c,d } = { 1,4 } $

The problem is : how many micro-sudokubes are there? Ibrahim handed in his paper and claims that there are exactly 32 of them, up to relabeling ${ 1,2,3,4 } $, so in all there are $32 \times 24 = 768 $ micro-sudokubes.

The proof-strategy is as follows. Fix one side and use relabeling to put the solution on that side to be one of 12 canonical forms (see for example this post. Next, work out as above for each of these standard forms in how many ways it can be extended. A nice idea of Ibrahim was to develop a much better notation for micro-sudokubes than the above flattenet-out cube. He uses the fact that a micro-sudokube is entirely determined by the solutions on two opposite sides (check this for yourself). Moreover, fixing one side determines one-half of all the neighboring sides. His notation for the 4 solutions above then becomes

and he can then use these solutions also in other standard form (the extra notation using the names A,B,C 1-4 for the 12 canonical forms).

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mini-sudokube

Via the Arcadian functor I learned of the existence of the Sudokube (picture on the left).

Sudokube is a variation on a Rubik’s Cube in which each face resembles one-ninth of a Sudoku grid: the numbers from one to nine. This makes solving the cube slightly more difficult than a conventional Rubik’s Cube because each number must be in the right place and the centre cubies must also be in the correct orientation.

A much more interesting Sudoku-variation of the cube was invented two weeks ago by one of my freshmen-grouptheory students and was dubbed the mini-sudokube by him. Here’s the story.

At the end of my grouptheory course I let the students write a paper to check whether they have research potential. This year the assignment was to read through the paper mini-sudokus and groups by Carlos Arcos, Gary Brookfield and Mike Krebs, and do something original with it.

Mini-Sudoku is the baby $2 \times 2 $ version of Sudoku. Below a trivial problem and its solution

Of course most of them took the safe road and explained in more detail a result of the paper. Two of them were more original. One used the mini-sudoku solutions to find solutions for 4×4 sudokus, but the most original contribution came from Ibrahim Belkadi who wanted to count all mini-sudokubes. A mini-sudokube is a cube with a mini-sudoku solution on all 6 of its sides BUT NUMBERS CARRY OVER CUBE-EDGES. That is, if we have as the mini-sudoku given by the central square below on the top-face of the cube, then on the 4 side-faces we have already one row filled in.

The problem then is to find out how many compatible solutions there are. It is pretty easy to see that top- and bottom-faces determine all squares of the cube, but clearly not all choices are permitted. For example, with the above top-face fixed there are exactly 4 solutions. Let ${ a,b } = { 1,4 } $ and ${ c,d } = { 2,3 } $ then these four solutions are given below

Putting one of these solutions (or any other) on a $4 \times 4 $-Rubik cube would make a more interesting puzzle, I think. I’ve excused Ibrahim from having to take examination on condition that he writes down what he can prove on his mini-sudokubes by that time. Looking forward to it!

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Conway’s puzzle M(13)

Recently, I’ve been playing with the idea of writing a book for the general public. Its title is still unclear to me (though an idea might be “The disposable science”, better suggestions are of course wellcome) but I’ve fixed the subtitle as “Mathematics’ puzzling fall from grace”. The book’s concept is simple : I would consider the mathematical puzzles creating an hype over the last three centuries : the 14-15 puzzle for the 19th century, Rubik’s cube for the 20th century and, of course, Sudoku for the present century.

For each puzzle, I would describe its origin, the mathematics involved and how it can be used to solve the puzzle and, finally, what the differing quality of these puzzles tells us about mathematics’ changing standing in society over the period. Needless to say, the subtitle already gives away my point of view. The final part of the book would then be more optimistic. What kind of puzzles should we promote for mathematical thinking to have a fighting chance to survive in the near future?

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