Pressing Toward the Prize

Of Songs, Puzzles, and Mathematical Analysis

Posted on: October 13, 2010

While reading the September 2010 issue of “Math Horizons” magazine, I ran across some fun and interesting articles. In the “fun” category was an article written by Donald Byrd, a parody, or mathematicizing (is that a word??), of the seemingly endless song “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” For the infinite version, with infinite bottles of beer on the wall, one falls down, and you are left with infinite bottles of beer, forever. The larger infinity version starts with uncountable bottles, if countable bottles fall,  then you still have uncountable bottles of beer. The indeterminate version: start with infinite bottles of beer, if infinite bottles of beer should happen to fall, you are left with indeterminate bottles of beer on the wall, and this is the end of that song! Other versions include geometric progression, Euler’s identity, differentials, identity, topological dimension, and fractal dimension. All in all, pretty entertaining.

Another article, written by Bruce Torrence and still in the “fun” category,  described a convention of magicians, mathematicians, and puzzle masters held in honor of Martin Gardner, “the prolific and magnetic author whose interests spanned the seemingly disparate disciplines of mathematics, puzzles, magic, and the spirited debunking of pseudoscience.” A particularly obscure puzzle was presented by one of the speakers before he abruptly ended his brief talk and sat down: “I have two children. One is a boy born on a Tuesday. What is the probability I have two boys?” …brief pause… “The first thing you think is ‘What has Tuesday got to do with it?’ Well, it has everything to do with it.” As it turns out, this riddle became the talk of the convention, and was finally solved by counting all possible outcomes, including gender, births, and days of the week, and using basic probability theory. By the way, the answer is 13/27.

Finally, of extreme interest to me, was an article about the terrors of Mathematical Analysis. This is the course I will be taking in the spring, and it is the only course I still need to fulfill my major. The bad part is that I am already stressing about taking it. I have heard frightening things about how impossible this course is, and how I should just resign myself to being happy if I pass it, let alone trying to get a good grade in it. So Tina Rapke’s article “Confronting Analysis” was speaking to me. She shares about how she struggled with mathematical analysis in the beginning, actually “drowning” is the word she used, and how she eventually found understanding and success by hard work, tenacity, and consulting multiple resources, some of which she discusses in the article. She is now a Ph.D. candidate pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in mathematics and education, having written her PH.D. candidacy exam in analysis, and passing. Her advice to those who struggle with analysis? a) You are not alone! b) Be open to various textbooks and resources, and  c) Don’t give up!

I think I will keep this article close at hand… spring semester is coming!

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1 Response to "Of Songs, Puzzles, and Mathematical Analysis"

I read that article, like you suggested. I think I came up with my own version of the song, but I was going to go back and reread the article to see if it is already there.

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  • gramsonjanessa: I can't wait to listen to your capstone presentation in the spring! Your proposal was really interesting and I'm interested to see how the linear alge
  • dewittda: This is impressive! I thought I was good because I solved a rubik’s cube once in an hour. I served with a guy in the Air Force who could solve a r
  • ZeroSum Ruler: The Euclidean algorithm should me the mainstream way we teach students how to find the GCF. Why isn't it? A mystery.

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