Visualize the vertex

This week’s Riddler Classic is a neat geometry problem about

Suppose you have two distinct points anywhere on the coordinate plane. If I tell you that a parabola with a vertical line of symmetry passes through those two points, where on the plane could that parabola’s vertex be?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Polarization Puzzle

This week’s Riddler Classic is about light polarization.


When light passes through a polarizer, only the light whose polarization aligns with the polarizer passes through. When they aren’t perfectly aligned, only the component of the light that’s in the direction of the polarizer passes through. For example, here is what happens if you use two polarizers, the first at 45 degrees, and the second at 90 degrees. The length of the original vector is decreased by a factor of 1/2.

I have tons of polarizers, and each one also reflects 1 percent of any light that hits it — no matter its polarization or orientation — while polarizing the remaining 99 percent of the light. I’m interested in horizontally polarizing as much of the incoming light as possible. How many polarizers should I use?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

Inscribed hexagons

This week’s Riddler Classic is a geometry problem involving inscribed hexagons.

The larger regular hexagon in the diagram below has a side length of 1. What is the side length of the smaller regular hexagon?
If you look very closely, there are two more, even smaller hexagons on top. What are their side lengths?

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]

Tetrahedron optimization

This week’s Riddler Classic is a short problem 3D geometry. Here we go! (I paraphrased the question)

A polyhedron has six edges. Five of the edges have length $1$. What is the largest possible volume?

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]

Turning radius

This week’s Riddler Classic is a simple-looking question about the turning radius of a truck.

Suppose I’m driving a very long truck (with length L) with two front wheels and two rear wheels. (The truck is so long compared to its width that I can consider the two front wheels as being a single wheel, and the two rear wheels as being a single wheel.)

Suppose I can also rotate the front wheels by $\alpha$ and the back wheels — independently from the front wheels — by $\beta$. What is the truck’s turning radius?

Here is my solution:
[Show Solution]

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]