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Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Stay in the Tub, Archimedes
21 November 2003 (All day)
Perhaps it wouldn't make him run naked through the streets shouting "eureka," but Archimedes would no doubt be pleased that one of his puzzles has been completely solved more than 2000 years later.
In the third century B.C.E., Archimedes posed a geometric mindbender: How can one get a particular set of 14 irregular triangles and quadrilaterals to fit together into one big square? Finding one solution isn't that hard, but nobody knew how many solutions there are. "When you first start looking at it, it seems like it might have thousands and thousands of solutions," says mathematician Ed Pegg, who works at Wolfram Research, a mathematics software company in Champaign, Illinois.
But just this month, puzzlemaker Bill Cutler of Palatine, Illinois, put the 2-millennium-old poser to rest. Using a computer's brute force, Cutler figured out by trial and error that there were only 536 solutions to the puzzle, excluding rotating and reflecting the final assembled square. One element that made the problem tractable was that there are three pairs of pieces that need always be together--one side of each of those pieces is a length that only fits together with its partner.
That constraint as well as the fact that there were obviously lots of solutions limited Archimedes' puzzle's appeal, says Pegg. "It really wasn't all that good of a puzzle," he says. "So it went by the wayside." Nevertheless, he thinks that the solution to the ancient problem is a victory.