Polygons with perimeter and vertex budgets

his week’s Riddler Classic involves designing maximum-area polygons with a fixed budget on the length of the perimeter and the number of vertices. The original problem involved designing enclosures for hamsters, but I have paraphrased the problem to make it more concise.

You want to build a polygonal enclosure consisting of posts connected by walls. Each post weighs $k$ kg. The walls weigh $1$ kg per meter. You are allowed a maximum budget of $1$ kg for the posts and walls.

What’s the greatest value of $k$ for which you should use four posts rather than three?

Extra credit: For which values of $k$ should you use five posts, six posts, seven posts, and so on?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Connect the dots

This week’s Riddler Classic is a problem about connecting dots to create as many non-intersecting polygons as possible. Here is the problem:

Polly Gawn loves to play “connect the dots.” Today, she’s playing a particularly challenging version of the game, which has six unlabeled dots on the page. She would like to connect them so that they form the vertices of a hexagon. To her surprise, she finds that there are many different hexagons she can draw, each with the same six vertices.

What is the greatest possible number of unique hexagons Polly can draw using six points?

(Hint: With four points, that answer is three. That is, Polly can draw up to three quadrilaterals, as long as one of the points lies inside the triangle formed by the other three. Otherwise, Polly would only be able to draw one quadrilateral.)

Extra Credit: What is the greatest possible number of unique heptagons Polly can draw using seven points?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Settlers in a circle

In this Riddler problem, the goal is to spread out settlements in a circle so that they are as far apart as possible:

Antisocial settlers are building houses on a prairie that’s a perfect circle with a radius of 1 mile. Each settler wants to live as far apart from his or her nearest neighbor as possible. To accomplish that, the settlers will overcome their antisocial behavior and work together so that the average distance between each settler and his or her nearest neighbor is as large as possible.

At first, there were slated to be seven settlers. Arranging that was easy enough: One will build his house in the center of the circle, while the other six will form a regular hexagon along its circumference. Every settler will be exactly 1 mile from his nearest neighbor, so the average distance is 1 mile.

However, at the last minute, one settler cancels his move to the prairie altogether (he’s really antisocial). That leaves six settlers. Does that mean the settlers can live further away from each other than they would have if there were seven settlers? Where will the six settlers ultimately build their houses, and what’s the maximum average distance between nearest neighbors?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Tether your goat!

A geometry problem from the Riddler blog. Here it goes:

A farmer owns a circular field with radius R. If he ties up his goat to the fence that runs along the edge of the field, how long does the goat’s tether need to be so that the goat can graze on exactly half of the field, by area?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]


This post is about a geometry Riddler puzzle involving bisecting a shape using only a straightedge and a pencil. Here is the problem:

Say you have an “L” shape formed by two rectangles touching each other. These two rectangles could have any dimensions and they don’t have to be equal to each other in any way. (A few examples are shown below.)

Using only a straightedge and a pencil (no rulers, protractors or compasses), how can you draw a single straight line that cuts the L into two halves of exactly equal area, no matter what the dimensions of the L are? You can draw as many lines as you want to get to the solution, but the bisector itself can only be one single straight line.

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Minimal road networks

This Riddler problem is about efficient road-building!

Consider four towns arranged to form the corners of a square, where each side is 10 miles long. You own a road-building company. The state has offered you \$28 million to construct a road system linking all four towns in some way, and it costs you \$1 million to build one mile of road. Can you turn a profit if you take the job?

Extra credit: How does your business calculus change if there were five towns arranged as a pentagon? Six as a hexagon? Etc.?

Here is a longer explanation:
[Show Solution]

Here is the solution with minimal explanation:
[Show Solution]

Inscribed triangles and tetrahedra

The following problems appeared in The Riddler. They involve randomly picking points on a circle or sphere and seeing if the resulting shape contains the center or not.

Problem 1: Choose three points on a circle at random and connect them to form a triangle. What is the probability that the center of the circle is contained in that triangle?

Problem 2: Choose four points at random (independently and uniformly distributed) on the surface of a sphere. What is the probability that the tetrahedron defined by those four points contains the center of the sphere?

Here is my solution to both problems:
[Show Solution]

Sticks in the woods

This Riddler puzzle is about making triangles out of sticks! Here is the problem:

Here are four questions about finding sticks in the woods, breaking them, and making shapes:

  1. If you break a stick in two places at random, forming three pieces, what is the probability of being able to form a triangle with the pieces?
  2. If you select three sticks, each of random length (between 0 and 1), what is the probability of being able to form a triangle with them?
  3. If you break a stick in two places at random, what is the probability of being able to form an acute triangle — where each angle is less than 90 degrees — with the pieces?
  4. If you select three sticks, each of random length (between 0 and 1), what is the probability of being able to form an acute triangle with the sticks?

For the tl;dr, here are the answers:
[Show Solution]

Here are detailed solutions to all four problems (with cool visuals!):
[Show Solution]

A tetrahedron puzzle

This post is about a 3D geometry Riddler puzzle involving spheres and tetrahedra! Here is the problem:

We want to create a new gift for fall, and we have a lot of spheres, of radius 1, left over from last year’s fidget sphere craze, and we’d like to sell them in sets of four. We also have a lot of extra tetrahedral packaging from last month’s Pyramid Fest. What’s the smallest tetrahedron into which we can pack four spheres?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Convex ranches

This Riddler puzzle is about randomly generating convex quadrilaterals.

Consider four square-shaped ranches, arranged in a two-by-two pattern, as if part of a larger checkerboard. One family lives on each ranch, and each family builds a small house independently at a random place within the property. Later, as the families in adjacent quadrants become acquainted, they construct straight-line paths between the houses that go across the boundaries between the ranches, four in total. These paths form a quadrilateral circuit path connecting all four houses. This circuit path is also the boundary of the area where the families’ children are allowed to roam.

What is the probability that the children are able to travel in a straight line from any allowed place to any other allowed place without leaving the boundaries? (In other words, what is the probability that the quadrilateral is convex?)

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]