Challenge yourself with these 10 Maths Week brainteasers

19 Oct 2017

Safety in numbers: School traffic warden Sheila Blake with Jadine Rock, Dylan Dunne, Brooke Robertson and Tameron O’Brien of Rutland National School, Dublin, at the launch of Maths Week Ireland. Image: Shane O’Neill/SON Photographic

Marking Maths Week Ireland’s 12th and biggest year of events to date, we round up some tricky mathematical puzzles for you to solve.

People don’t generally associate maths with fun, but that harmful pigeonholing of the subject as rigid and complicated is just the kind of thing Maths Week Ireland has been established to dispel.

Since the 2017 iteration began on 14 October, world-renowned mathematicians have been engaging and entertaining people of all ages with the wonder of maths using fun events and numerical challenges. Unfortunately, Storm Ophelia forced the annual Hamilton Lecture to be cancelled, but we still got to welcome bestselling author of the Murderous Maths book series, Kjartan Poskitt, to Dublin City University, and ‘mathemagician’ Andrew Jeffrey will be entertaining students in the Helix today (19 October).

Through these talks, games, teasers, challenges and magic maths shows, the hope is that young people will be able to increase their confidence in their maths ability.

Significant figures

It was estimated at the launch event in September that more than 250,000 people would take part in the week’s events, making it the biggest Maths Week Ireland to date. In fact, it’s said to be the largest festival of its kind in the world.

Maths Week Ireland is the result of a partnership involving more than 50 public and private sector institutions and groups including Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Department of Education and Skills, universities, institutes of technology, libraries and many of Ireland’s flagship employers. The vast all-island event is coordinated by CALMaST, the Centre for the Advancement of Learning of Maths, Science and Technology at Waterford Institute of Technology.

‘Maths and numeracy underpin studies and careers across virtually every industry and sector; they are critical enablers of innovation and success’

“It’s particularly important for young people and students to have an appreciation of maths as a subject that can help them throughout their lives, and create many exciting opportunities for them,” said Dr Ruth Freeman, director of strategy and communications for SFI. “Maths and numeracy underpin studies and careers across virtually every industry and sector; they are critical enablers of innovation and success.”

At the launch event, Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton, TD, noted his ambition to make Ireland’s education service the best in Europe within a decade, and added: “Part of this ambition is equipping learners to think independently and logically and to solve problems. Maths is a subject that develops both abilities, and these skills are key to engaging in our ever-changing world.”

Over the course of its 12 years, more than 1m people have engaged with Maths Week Ireland, according to coordinator Eoin Gill. “People can find maths a bit intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. Maths and numbers are all around us, from adding up food items on a menu, getting quotes from home providers and right up the line to the skills that we need to run businesses, invent new technologies and drive our economy. That’s why Maths Week is so important in promoting numerical ability and the importance that maths has in everyday life,” he said.

Maths Week Ireland runs until Sunday 22 October. You have until then to see how many of our 10 maths puzzles you can solve!

1. Can you logic your way to €1m?

You’re just one answer away from winning all of the prizes on the quiz show, Mathemagic, as well as €1m. All you have to do is get this next question right. Are you ready to play the final round?

2. How many minions does it take to rig an election?

Maths comes into play in a lot of jobs, in a lot of sectors. A lot of them you’ll know about, such as accounting, analytics or teaching – but have you considered electoral math? Well, you’re about to.

3. Can you make this mad king’s toll add up?

Have you ever complained about the price of tolls? Thank your lucky stars you’re not living in the kingdom of mad King Fengel of Rohan. Only a maths whizz can work out his crazy system.

4. Could you pick a defect security robot out of a line-up?

At some indeterminate point in our future, the company XYZ will start making security robots called OLYs, or Observational Law-abiding Yeoman. But what good are robot security guards if they’re capable of lying about what they see? You’ll need logic on your side to crack this conundrum.

5. Can you help this captain make their cargo shipshape?

Being the captain of a container ship has a lot of stresses attached to it, not least having to make sure that all the containers are placed correctly and safely. For this, maths comes into play.

6. Can you divide up the music budget evenly?

A music school has managed to come in under budget this year. It’s great news, because it means the surplus can be distributed in the form of vouchers to six music groups in the school. Extra money is always a good thing, but they need a helping hand to make sure everyone gets an equal share. Can you work it out?

7. Would you pass this tech interview test?

Don’t perform well under pressure? Can you imagine how bad it would be if you were asked to do maths in a high-stress situation? Imagine no more.

8. Can you help this amnesiac get her memory back?

What would you do if you were struck down with crippling amnesia? What if you couldn’t form new memories? Would you use trees to help you? What about maths?

9. Can you get your children in line using logic and maths?

Maths can be incredibly challenging, but it can also be simple and fun. And, sometimes, it’s somewhere in between – a little less than easy, and a little more involved than you think. That’s the case with this puzzle from the Irish Mathematical Trust.

10. Will this maths puzzle give you a lightbulb moment?

What would you do for a million euro? Would you agree to a test of mental endurance? One of logic and maths?