What can you do with a million business cards?

Do you have a stack of business cards and you are wondering what to do with them? Well wonder no more! First scan those cards in case you need to reach those people. Then you are ready to build your own (approximation of) a famous fractal: the Menger Sponge.

Menger Cube

Who would build such a thing? And how many business cards would you need to build three iterations of the Menger Sponge (aka Menger Cube)? You can find the answers here:


Game about squares.


From the Department of “I have too much time and I want to waste some”, here is a fabulous game that you can check out. The beauty of it is that you figure out the rules as you go (the silly comments when you clear each level are just a bonus), and some mathematician (Jens Massberg) just wrote a paper on the game showing it is NP-hard.

Here is the game: http://gameaboutsquares.com/

and here is the link to the article on NP-completeness:


What is NP-hard? Well… here you go:


The Rubik’s Cube celebrates 40 years.

The beloved Rubik’s Cube turns 40 this year. And a celebration is under way to celebrate its enduring appeal. Created by Erno Rubik, a Hungarian architect and designer, it was initially sold as a toy at fairs before becoming an international phenomenon. “Speed cubing” is a recognized championship sport where participants compete to solve a randomized cube in the shortest possible time. The world record: 5.5 seconds.


The cube has inspired a lot of beautiful mathematics including the notion of a Rubik’s cube in higher dimensions (and an appropriate algorithm to solve it).

See this article for the traveling exhibit:


The 2014 Abel Prize goes to Professor Yakov Sinai.

The Abel Prize foundation of Norway just announced the 2014 awardee of this prestigious prize for 2014. Named for the great Norwegian mathematician, Niels Henrik Abel, the prize was established by the Norwegian government in 2001 with an endowment of 200 million Norwegian kroner. This allows for an annual award of 1 million U.S. dollars.

The winner this year is Professor Yakov Sinai of Princeton University and Landau Institute of Theoretical Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences for his beautiful and enduring work in the areas of dynamical systems, ergodic theory and mathematical physics. Here is the link to the Abel Prize page along with more information about Professor Sinai’s work:


Niels Henrik Abel was one of the great mathematicians of the nineteenth century and like some of that era suffered a tragic end. He solved the ancient and deep problem of showing that there cannot be a formula to determine the roots of an arbitrary quintic polynomial with integer coefficients. Sadly, by the time his results were understood and appreciated, he succumbed to consumption at the young age of 26. Here is a complete biography:



Perhaps you have heard of the extremely addictive new game “2048” created by Gabriele Cirulli. The object is to combine numbers (powers of 2) by sliding tiles and getting to 2048. This is much harder than it appears. The game was in turn inspired by the simple (and also addictive) game “Threes” by Asher Vollmer.


It is easier to play it and understand it than write a long explanation about it. The potential for mathematical explorations from this game are obvious and enormous! Go check it out and when you emerge after several days please do not curse the blog for sucking up your time!! You can find the original game here (there are already several clones):


and here are some variations. The first variation below generates Fibonacci numbers rather than powers of 2. The second one is based on divisibility. Enjoy!!!



Here is a link to the original “Threes” by Asher Vollmer.


Pi Day!!!

“Sir, I bear a rhyme excelling
In mystic force, and magic spelling
Celestial sprites elucidate
All my own striving can’t relate
Or locate they who can cogitate
And so finally terminate.  Finis.”

That’s for memorizing Pi up to thirty one decimal places. What is the thirty second? It’s a zero, which is why most mnemonic rhymes go no farther than thirty one words (how do you represent a word of zero length in a poem? If you say a word of zero length, did you make a sound?)

Some fun Pi related things:

Here is a graphic on Pi and how it really is all about pie 🙂


And while the U.S. Congress is much maligned, they did try to pass this House Resolution a few years ago:


And did you know that Pi day is also Albert Einstein’s birthday?

Our math department graduate students are celebrating Pi day on March (3) 14th at 1:59 pm and 26 seconds. Probably there will be pie at the gathering.

And here is a story about some of the wackier Pi Day celebrations around the world:



What are you doing to celebrate Pi Day???