Catch the grasshopper

This week’s Riddler classic is a probability problem about a grasshopper!

You are trying to catch a grasshopper on a balance beam that is 1 meter long. Every time you try to catch it, it jumps to a random point along the interval between 20 centimeters left of its current position and 20 centimeters right of its current position. If the grasshopper is within 20 centimeters of one of the edges, it will not jump off the edge. For example, if it is 10 centimeters from the left edge of the beam, then it will randomly jump to anywhere within 30 centimeters of that edge with equal probability (meaning it will be twice as likely to jump right as it is to jump left). After many, many failed attempts to catch the grasshopper, where is it most likely to be on the beam? Where is it least likely? And what is the ratio between these respective probabilities?

My solution:
[Show Solution]

Cone crawling

This week’s Riddler Classic is a geometry problem about traversing the surface of a cone

The circular base of the cone has a radius of 2 meters and a slant height of 4 meters. We start on the base, a distance of 1 meter away from the center. The goal is to reach the point half-way up the cone, 90 degrees around the cone’s central axis from the start, as shown. What is the shortest path?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

The luckiest coin

This week’s Riddler Classic is about finding the “luckiest” coin!

I have in my possession 1 million fair coins. I first flip all 1 million coins simultaneously, discarding any coins that come up tails. I flip all the coins that come up heads a second time, and I again discard any of these coins that come up tails. I repeat this process, over and over again. If at any point I am left with one coin, I declare that to be the “luckiest” coin.

But getting to one coin is no sure thing. For example, I might find myself with two coins, flip both of them and have both come up tails. Then I would have zero coins, never having had exactly one coin.

What is the probability that I will at some point have exactly one “luckiest” coin?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Triangle Trek

This week’s Riddler Classic is a problem involving traversing a triangle.

Amare the ant is traveling within Triangle ABC, as shown below. Angle A measures 15 degrees, and sides AB and AC both have length 1.

Amare must:

  • Start at point B.
  • Second, touch a point — any point — on side AC.
  • Third, touch a point — any point — back on side AB.
  • Finally, proceed to a point — any point — on side AC (not necessarily the same point he touched earlier).

What is the shortest distance Amare can travel to complete the desired path?

I solved the problem in two different ways. The elegant solution:
[Show Solution]

And the more complicated solution:
[Show Solution]

Evil twin

This week’s Riddler Classic is a pursuit problem with a twist. Here is the problem, paraphrased.

You are walking in a straight line (moving forward at all times) near a lamppost. Your evil twin begins opposite you, hidden from view by the lamppost, as illustrated in the figure below.

Assume your evil twin moves precisely twice as fast as you at all times, and they remain obscured from your view by the lamppost at all times. What is the farthest your evil twin can be from the lamppost after you’ve walked the 200 feet as shown?

Here is my solution.
[Show Solution]

Perfect pursuit

This week’s Riddler Classic is about catching

Hames Jarrison has just intercepted a pass at one end zone of a football field, and begins running — at a constant speed of 15 miles per hour — to the other end zone, 100 yards away.

At the moment he catches the ball, you are on the very same goal line, but on the other end of the field, 50 yards away from Jarrison. Caught up in the moment, you decide you will always run directly toward Jarrison’s current position, rather than plan ahead to meet him downfield along a more strategic course.

Assuming you run at a constant speed (i.e., don’t worry about any transient acceleration), how fast must you be in order to catch Jarrison before he scores a touchdown?

Here is the solution.
[Show Solution]

For a detailed derivation (warning: calculus!) click below.
[Show Solution]

Infinite cake

This week’s Riddler Express is a short problem about infinite series. Let’s dig in! (I paraphrased the question)

You and your infinitely many friends are sharing a cake, and you come up with several different methods of splitting it.

  1. Friend 1 takes half of the cake, Friend 2 takes a third of what remains, Friend 3 takes a quarter of what remains after Friend 2, Friend 4 takes a fifth of what remains after Friend 3, and so on.
  2. Friend 1 takes $1/2^2$ (or one-quarter) of the cake, Friend 2 takes $1/3^2$ (or one-ninth) of what remains, Friend 3 takes $1/4^2$ of what remains after Friend 3, and so on.
  3. Same as previous, with even denominators only: Friend 1 takes $1/2^2$ of the cake, Friend 2 takes $1/4^2$ of what remains, Friend 3 takes $1/6^2$ of what remains after Friend 2, and so on.

For each of these methods, after your infinitely many friends take their respective pieces, how much cake is left?

Here is my solution
[Show Solution]

Baking the biggest pie

This week’s Riddler Classic is about baking the biggest pie. Just in time for π day!

You have a sheet of crust laid out in front of you. After baking, your pie crust will be a cylinder of uniform thickness (or rather, thinness) with delicious filling inside.

To maximize the volume of your pie, what fraction of your crust should you use to make the circular base (i.e., the bottom) of the pie?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Flip to freedom

This week’s Riddler Classic is a problem about coin flipping. The text of the original problem is quite long, so I will paraphrase it here:

There are $n$ prisoners, each with access to a random number generator (generates uniform random numbers in $[0,1]$) and a fair coin. Each prisoner is given the opportunity to flip their coin once if they so choose. If all of the flipped coins come up Heads, all prisoners are released. But if any of the flipped coins come up Tails, or if no coins are flipped at all, the prisoners are not released. If the prisoners cannot communicate in any way and do not know who is flipping their coin or not, how can they maximize their chances of being released?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

When did the snow start?

This week’s Riddler Classic is a neat calculus problem:

One morning, it starts snowing. The snow falls at a constant rate, and it continues the rest of the day.

At noon, a snowplow begins to clear the road. The more snow there is on the ground, the slower the plow moves. In fact, the plow’s speed is inversely proportional to the depth of the snow — if you were to double the amount of snow on the ground, the plow would move half as fast.

In its first hour on the road, the plow travels 2 miles. In the second hour, the plow travels only 1 mile.

When did it start snowing?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]