Anyone interested in recreational mathematics should seek out three compendiums by Ian Stewart: *Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities* (2008), *Professor Stewart’s Hoard of Mathematical Treasures* (2009) and *Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries* (2014). They’re full of ideas and puzzles and are excellent introductions to the scope and subtlety of maths. I first came across Alexander’s Horned Sphere in one of them. I also came across this simpler shape that packs infinity into a finite area:

I call it a horned triangle or unicorn triangle and it reminds me of a wave curling over, like Katsushika Hokusai’s *The Great Wave off Kanagawa* (c. 1830) (“wave” is *unda* in Latin and *onda* in Spanish).

To construct the unicorn triangle, you take an equilateral triangle with sides of length 1 and erect a triangle with sides of length 0.5 on one of its corners. Then on the corresponding corner of the new triangle you erect a triangle with sides of length 0.25. And so on, for ever.

When you double the sides of a polygon, you quadruple the area: a 1×1 square has an area of 1, a 2×2 square has an area of 4. Accordingly, when you halve the sides of a polygon, you quarter the area: a 1×1 square has an area of 1, a 0.5 x 0.5 square has an area of 0.25 or 1/4. So if the original triangle of the unicorn triangle above has an area of 1 rather than sides of 1, the first triangle added has an area of 0.25 = 1/4, the next an area of 0.0625 = 1/16, and so on. The infinite sum is this:

1/4 + 1/16 + 1/256 + 1/1024 + 1/4096 + 1/16384…

Which equals 1/3. This becomes important when you see the use made of the shape in Stewart’s book. The unicorn triangle is a rep-tile, or a shape that can be divided into smaller copies of the same shape:

An equilateral triangle can be divided into four copies of itself, each 1/4 of the original area. If an equilateral triangle with an area of 4 is divided into three unicorn triangles, each unicorn has an area of 1 + 1/3 and 3 * (1 + 1/3) = 4.

Because it’s a rep-tile, a unicorn triangle is also a fractal, a shape that is self-similar at smaller and smaller scales. When one of the sub-unicorns is dropped, the fractals become more obvious:

Elsewhere other-posted:

• Rep-Tiles Revisited

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