Period Panes

In The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers (1987), David Wells remarks that 142857 is “a number beloved of all recreational mathematicians”. He then explains that it’s “the decimal period of 1/7: 1/7 = 0·142857142857142…” and “the first decimal reciprocal to have maximum period, that is, the length of its period is only one less than the number itself.”

Why does this happen? Because when you’re calculating 1/n, the remainders can only be less than n. In the case of 1/7, you get remainders for all integers less than 7, i.e. there are 6 distinct remainders and 6 = 7-1:

(1*10) / 7 = 1 remainder 3, therefore 1/7 = 0·1...
(3*10) / 7 = 4 remainder 2, therefore 1/7 = 0·14...
(2*10) / 7 = 2 remainder 6, therefore 1/7 = 0·142...
(6*10) / 7 = 8 remainder 4, therefore 1/7 = 0·1428...
(4*10) / 7 = 5 remainder 5, therefore 1/7 = 0·14285...
(5*10) / 7 = 7 remainder 1, therefore 1/7 = 0·142857...
(1*10) / 7 = 1 remainder 3, therefore 1/7 = 0·1428571...
(3*10) / 7 = 4 remainder 2, therefore 1/7 = 0·14285714...
(2*10) / 7 = 2 remainder 6, therefore 1/7 = 0·142857142...

Mathematicians know that reciprocals with maximum period can only be prime reciprocals and with a little effort you can work out whether a prime will yield a maximum period in a particular base. For example, 1/7 has maximum period in bases 3, 5, 10, 12 and 17:

1/21 = 0·010212010212010212... in base 3
1/12 = 0·032412032412032412... in base 5
1/7 =  0·142857142857142857... in base 10
1/7 =  0·186A35186A35186A35... in base 12
1/7 =  0·274E9C274E9C274E9C... in base 17

To see where else 1/7 has maximum period, have a look at this graph:

Period pane for primes 3..251 and bases 2..39


I call it a “period pane”, because it’s a kind of window into the behavior of prime reciprocals. But what is it, exactly? It’s a graph where the x-axis represents primes from 3 upward and the y-axis represents bases from 2 upward. The red squares along the bottom aren’t part of the graph proper, but indicate primes that first occur after a power of two: 5 after 4=2^2; 11 after 8=2^3; 17 after 16=2^4; 37 after 32=2^5; 67 after 64=2^6; and so on.

If a prime reciprocal has maximum period in a particular base, the graph has a solid colored square. Accordingly, the purple square at the bottom left represents 1/7 in base 10. And as though to signal the approval of the goddess of mathematics, the graph contains a lower-case b-for-base, which I’ve marked in green. Here are more period panes in higher resolution (open the images in a new window to see them more clearly):

Period pane for primes 3..587 and bases 2..77


Period pane for primes 3..1303 and bases 2..152


An interesting pattern has begun to appear: note the empty lanes, free of reciprocals with maximum period, that stretch horizontally across the period panes. These lanes are empty because there are no prime reciprocals with maximum period in square bases, that is, bases like 4, 9, 25 and 36, where 4 = 2*2, 9 = 3*3, 25 = 5*5 and 36 = 6*6. I don’t know why square bases don’t have max-period prime reciprocals, but it’s probably obvious to anyone with more mathematical nous than me.

Period pane for primes 3..2939 and bases 2..302


Period pane for primes 3..6553 and bases 2..602


Like the Ulam spiral, other and more mysterious patterns appear in the period panes, hinting at the hidden regularities in the primes.

Gyp Cip

Abundance often overwhelms, but restriction reaps riches. That’s true in mathematics and science, where you can often understand the whole better by looking at only a part of it first — restriction reaps riches. Egyptian fractions are one example in maths. In ancient Egypt, you could have any kind of fraction you liked so long as it was a reciprocal like 1/2, 1/3, 1/4 or 1/5 (well, there were two exceptions: 2/3 and 3/4 were also allowed).

So when mathematicians speak of “Egyptian fractions”, they mean those fractions that can be represented as a sum of reciprocals. Egyptian fractions are restricted and that reaps riches. Here’s one example: how many ways can you add n distinct reciprocals to make 1? When n = 1, there’s one way to do it: 1/1. When n = 2, there’s no way to do it, because 1 – 1/2 = 1/2. Therefore the summed reciprocals aren’t distinct: 1/2 + 1/2 = 1. After that, 1 – 1/3 = 2/3, 1 – 1/4 = 3/4, and so on. By the modern meaning of “Egyptian fraction”, there’s no solution for n = 2.

However, when n = 3, there is a way to do it:

• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/6 = 1

But that’s the only way. When n = 4, things get better:

• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/6 + 1/12 = 1
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/10 + 1/15 = 1
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/9 + 1/18 = 1
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/20 = 1
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/8 + 1/24 = 1
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/42 = 1

What about n = 5, n = 6 and so on? You can find the answer at the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (OEIS), where sequence A006585 is described as “Egyptian fractions: number of solutions to 1 = 1/x1 + … + 1/xn in positive integers x1 < … < xn”. The sequence is one of the shortest and strangest at the OEIS:

• 1, 0, 1, 6, 72, 2320, 245765, 151182379

When n = 1, there’s one solution: 1/1. When n = 2, there’s no solution, as I showed above. When n = 3, there’s one solution again. When n = 4, there are six solutions. And the OEIS tells you how many solutions there are for n = 5, 6, 7, 8. But n >= 9 remains unknown at the time of writing.

To understand the problem, consider the three reciprocals, 1/2, 1/3 and 1/5. How do you sum them? They have different denominators, 2, 3 and 5, so you have to create a new denominator, 30 = 2 * 3 * 5. Then you have to adjust the numerators (the numbers above the fraction bar) so that the new fractions have the same value as the old:

• 1/2 = 15/30 = (2*3*5 / 2) / 30
• 1/3 = 10/30 = (2*3*5 / 3) / 30
• 1/5 = 06/30 = (2*3*5 / 5) / 30
• 15/30 + 10/30 + 06/30 = (15+10+6) / 30 = 31/30 = 1 + 1/30

Those three reciprocals don’t sum to 1. Now try 1/2, 1/3 and 1/6:

• 1/2 = 18/36 = (2*3*6 / 2) / 36
• 1/3 = 12/36 = (2*3*6 / 3) / 36
• 1/6 = 06/36 = (2*3*6 / 6) / 36
• 18/36 + 12/36 + 06/36 = (18+12+6) / 36 = 36/36 = 1

So when n = 3, the problem consists of finding three reciprocals, 1/a, 1/b and 1/c, such that for a, b, and c:

• a*b*c = a*b + a*c + b*c

There is only one solution: a = 2, b = 3 and c = 6. When n = 4, the problem consists of finding four reciprocals, 1/a, 1/b, 1/c and 1/d, such that for a, b, c and d:

• a*b*c*d = a*b*c + a*b*d + a*c*d + b*c*d

For example:

• 2*4*6*12 = 576
• 2*4*6 + 2*4*12 + 2*6*12 + 4*6*12 = 48 + 96 + 144 + 288 = 576
• 2*4*6*12 = 2*4*6 + 2*4*12 + 2*6*12 + 4*6*12 = 576

Therefore:

• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/6 + 1/12 = 1

When n = 5, the problem consists of finding five reciprocals, 1/a, 1/b, 1/c, 1/d and 1/e, such that for a, b, c, d and e:

• a*b*c*d*e = a*b*c*d + a*b*c*e + a*b*d*e + a*c*d*e + b*c*d*e

There are 72 solutions and here they are:

• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/10 + 1/12 + 1/15 = 1 (#1)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/9 + 1/12 + 1/18 = 1 (#2)
• 1/2 + 1/5 + 1/6 + 1/12 + 1/20 = 1 (#3)
• 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/6 + 1/20 = 1 (#4)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/12 + 1/24 = 1 (#5)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/12 + 1/21 + 1/28 = 1 (#6)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/6 + 1/21 + 1/28 = 1 (#7)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/7 + 1/14 + 1/28 = 1 (#8)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/12 + 1/20 + 1/30 = 1 (#9)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/6 + 1/20 + 1/30 = 1 (#10)
• 1/2 + 1/5 + 1/6 + 1/10 + 1/30 = 1 (#11)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/11 + 1/22 + 1/33 = 1 (#12)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/14 + 1/15 + 1/35 = 1 (#13)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/12 + 1/18 + 1/36 = 1 (#14)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/6 + 1/18 + 1/36 = 1 (#15)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/10 + 1/24 + 1/40 = 1 (#16)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/10 + 1/40 = 1 (#17)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/7 + 1/12 + 1/42 = 1 (#18)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/9 + 1/30 + 1/45 = 1 (#19)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/36 + 1/45 = 1 (#20)
• 1/2 + 1/5 + 1/6 + 1/9 + 1/45 = 1 (#21)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/12 + 1/16 + 1/48 = 1 (#22)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/6 + 1/16 + 1/48 = 1 (#23)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/9 + 1/27 + 1/54 = 1 (#24)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/8 + 1/42 + 1/56 = 1 (#25)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/8 + 1/40 + 1/60 = 1 (#26)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/10 + 1/20 + 1/60 = 1 (#27)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/12 + 1/15 + 1/60 = 1 (#28)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/30 + 1/60 = 1 (#29)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/6 + 1/15 + 1/60 = 1 (#30)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/28 + 1/70 = 1 (#31)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/8 + 1/36 + 1/72 = 1 (#32)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/9 + 1/24 + 1/72 = 1 (#33)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/9 + 1/72 = 1 (#34)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/12 + 1/14 + 1/84 = 1 (#35)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/6 + 1/14 + 1/84 = 1 (#36)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/8 + 1/33 + 1/88 = 1 (#37)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/10 + 1/18 + 1/90 = 1 (#38)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/78 + 1/91 = 1 (#39)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/8 + 1/32 + 1/96 = 1 (#40)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/9 + 1/22 + 1/99 = 1 (#41)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/25 + 1/100 = 1 (#42)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/70 + 1/105 = 1 (#43)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/11 + 1/15 + 1/110 = 1 (#44)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/8 + 1/30 + 1/120 = 1 (#45)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/24 + 1/120 = 1 (#46)
• 1/2 + 1/5 + 1/6 + 1/8 + 1/120 = 1 (#47)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/63 + 1/126 = 1 (#48)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/9 + 1/21 + 1/126 = 1 (#49)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/60 + 1/140 = 1 (#50)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/7 + 1/10 + 1/140 = 1 (#51)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/12 + 1/13 + 1/156 = 1 (#52)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/6 + 1/13 + 1/156 = 1 (#53)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/56 + 1/168 = 1 (#54)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/8 + 1/28 + 1/168 = 1 (#55)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/9 + 1/20 + 1/180 = 1 (#56)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/54 + 1/189 = 1 (#57)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/8 + 1/27 + 1/216 = 1 (#58)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/22 + 1/220 = 1 (#59)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/11 + 1/14 + 1/231 = 1 (#60)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/51 + 1/238 = 1 (#61)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/10 + 1/16 + 1/240 = 1 (#62)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/49 + 1/294 = 1 (#63)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/8 + 1/26 + 1/312 = 1 (#64)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/48 + 1/336 = 1 (#65)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/9 + 1/19 + 1/342 = 1 (#66)
• 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/21 + 1/420 = 1 (#67)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/46 + 1/483 = 1 (#68)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/8 + 1/25 + 1/600 = 1 (#69)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/45 + 1/630 = 1 (#70)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/44 + 1/924 = 1 (#71)
• 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/43 + 1/1806 = 1 (#72)

All the sums start with 1/2 except for one:

• 1/2 + 1/5 + 1/6 + 1/12 + 1/20 = 1 (#3)
• 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/6 + 1/20 = 1 (#4)

Here are the solutions in another format:

(2,4,10,12,15), (2,4,9,12,18), (2,5,6,12,20), (3,4,5,6,20), (2,4,8,12,24), (2,3,12,21,28), (2,4,6,21,28), (2,4,7,14,28), (2,3,12,20,30), (2,4,6,20,30), (2,5,6,10,30), (2,3,11,22,33), (2,3,14,15,35), (2,3,12,18,36), (2,4,6,18,36), (2,3,10,24,40), (2,4,8,10,40), (2,4,7,12,42), (2,3,9,30,45), (2,4,5,36,45), (2,5,6,9,45), (2,3,12,16,48), (2,4,6,16,48), (2,3,9,27,54), (2,3,8,42,56), (2,3,8,40,60), (2,3,10,20,60), (2,3,12,15,60), (2,4,5,30,60), (2,4,6,15,60), (2,4,5,28,70), (2,3,8,36,72), (2,3,9,24,72), (2,4,8,9,72), (2,3,12,14,84), (2,4,6,14,84), (2,3,8,33,88), (2,3,10,18,90), (2,3,7,78,91), (2,3,8,32,96), (2,3,9,22,99), (2,4,5,25,100), (2,3,7,70,105), (2,3,11,15,110), (2,3,8,30,120), (2,4,5,24,120), (2,5,6,8,120), (2,3,7,63,126), (2,3,9,21,126), (2,3,7,60,140), (2,4,7,10,140), (2,3,12,13,156), (2,4,6,13,156), (2,3,7,56,168), (2,3,8,28,168), (2,3,9,20,180), (2,3,7,54,189), (2,3,8,27,216), (2,4,5,22,220), (2,3,11,14,231), (2,3,7,51,238), (2,3,10,16,240), (2,3,7,49,294), (2,3,8,26,312), (2,3,7,48,336), (2,3,9,19,342), (2,4,5,21,420), (2,3,7,46,483), (2,3,8,25,600), (2,3,7,45,630), (2,3,7,44,924), (2,3,7,43,1806)


Note

Strictly speaking, there are two solutions for n = 2 in genuine Egyptian fractions, because 1/3 + 2/3 = 1 and 1/4 + 3/4 = 1. As noted above, 2/3 and 3/4 were permitted as fractions in ancient Egypt.

Get Your Ox Off

Boustrophedon (pronounced “bough-stra-FEE-dun” or “boo-stra-FEE-dun”) is an ancient Greek word literally meaning “as the ox turns (in ploughing)”, that is, moving left-right, right-left, and so on. The word is used of writing that runs down the page in the same way. To see what that means, examine two versions of the first paragraph of Clark Ashton Smith’s story “The Demon of the Flower” (1933). The first is written in the usual way, the second is written boustrophedon:

Not as the plants and flowers of Earth, growing peacefully beneath a simple sun, were the blossoms of the planet Lophai. Coiling and uncoiling in double dawns; tossing tumultuously under vast suns of jade green and balas-ruby orange; swaying and weltering in rich twilights, in aurora-curtained nights, they resembled fields of rooted servants that dance eternally to an other-worldly music.


Not as the plants and flowers of Earth, growing peacefully
.iahpoL tenalp eht fo smossolb eht erew ,nus elpmis a htaeneb
Coiling and uncoiling in double dawns; tossing tumultuously
;egnaro ybur-salab dna neerg edaj fo snus tsav rednu
swaying and weltering in rich twilights, in aurora-curtained
ecnad taht stnavres detoor fo sdleif delbmeser yeht ,sthgin
eternally to an other-worldly music.


Boustrophedon writing was once common and sometimes the left-right lines would also be mirror-reversed, like this:


You could also use the term “boustrophedon” to describe the way this table of numbers is filled:

primes_table


The table begins with “1” in the top left-hand corner, then moves right for “2”, then down for “3”, then right-and-up for “4”, “5” and “6”, then right for “7”, then left-and-down for “8”, “9” and “10”, and so on. You could also say that the numbers snake through the table. I’ve marked the primes among them, because I was interested in the patterns made by the primes when the numbers were represented as blocks on a grid, like this:

primes_large


Primes are in solid white (compare the Ulam spiral). Here’s the boustrophedon prime-grid on a finer scale:

primes

(click for full image)


And what about other number-tests? Here are the even numbers marked on the grid (i.e. n mod 2 = 0):

mod2

n mod 2 = 0


And here are some more examples of a modulus test:

mod3

n mod 3 = 0


mod5

n mod 5 = 0


mod9

n mod 9 = 0


mod15

n mod 15 = 0


mod_various

n mod various = 0 (animated gif)


Next I looked at reciprocals (numbers divided into 1) marked on the grid, with the digits of a reciprocal marking the number of blank squares before a square is filled in (if the digit is “0”, the square is filled immediately). For example, in base ten 1/7 = 0.142857142857142857…, where the block “142857” repeats for ever. When represented on the grid, 1/7 has 1 blank square, then a filled square, then 4 blank squares, then a filled square, then 2 blank squares, then a filled square, and so on:

recip7_base10

1/7 in base 10


And here are some more reciprocals (click for full images):

recip9_base2

1/9 in base 2


recip13_base10

1/13 in base 10


recip27_base10

1/27 in base 10


recip41_base10

1/41 in base 10


recip63_base10

1/63 in base 10


recip82_base10

1/82 in base 10


recip101_base10

1/101 in base 10


recip104_base10

1/104 in base 10


recip124_base10

1/124 in base 10


recip143_base10

1/143 in base 10


recip175_base10

1/175 in base 10


recip604_base8

1/604 in base 8


recip_various

1/n in various bases (animated gif)


Prime Time

1/29[b=2] = 0·0000100011010011110111001011… (l=28)
1/29[b=3] = 0·0002210102011122200121202111… (l=28)
1/29[b=5] = 0·00412334403211… (l=14)
1/29[b=7] = 0·0145536… (l=7)
1/29[b=11] = 0·04199534608387[10]69115764[10]2723… (l=28)
1/29[b=13] = 0·05[10]9[11]28[12]7231[10]4… (l=14)
1/29[b=17] = 0·09[16]7… (l=4)
1/29[b=19] = 0·0[12]89[15][13][14]7[16]73[17][13]1[18]6[10]9354[11]2[11][15]15[17]… (l=28)
1/29[b=23] = 0·0[18]5[12][15][19][19]… (l=7)
1/29[b=29] = 0·1 (l=1)
1/29[b=31] = 0·1248[17]36[12][25][20]9[19]7[14][29][28][26][22][13][27][24][18]5[10][21][11][23][16]… (l=28)
1/29[b=37] = 0·1[10]7[24]8[34][16][21][25][19]53[30][22][35][26][29][12][28]2[20][15][11][17][31][33]6[14]… (l=28)
1/29[b=41] = 0·1[16][39][24]… (l=4)
1/29[b=43] = 0·1[20][32][26][29][28]7[17][34]4[19][11][37]2[41][22][10][16][13][14][35][25]8[38][23][31]5[40]… (l=28)
1/29[b=47] = 0·1[29]84[40][24][14][27][25][43][35][30][37][12][45][17][38][42]6[22][32][19][21]3[11][16]9[34]… (l=28)
1/29[b=53] = 0·1[43][45][36][29][12][42]… (l=7)
1/29[b=59] = 0·2… (l=1)
1/29[b=61] = 0·26[18][56][48][23]8[25][14][44][10][31][33][39][58][54][42]4[12][37][52][35][46][16][50][29][27][21]… (l=28)
1/29[b=67] = 0·2[20][53]9[16][11][36][64][46][13][57][50][55][30]… (l=14)
1/29[b=71] = 0·2[31][58][53][61][14][48][68][39][12][17]9[56][22]… (l=14)
1/29[b=73] = 0·2[37][55][27][50][25][12][42][57][65][32][52][62][67][70][35][17][45][22][47][60][30][15]7[40][20][10]5… (l=28)
1/29[b=79] = 0·2[57][16][27][19]5[35][32][54][38][10][70][65][29][76][21][62][51][59][73][43][46][24][40][68]8[13][49]… (l=28)
1/29[b=83] = 0·2[71][45][65][68][57][20]… (l=7)
1/29[b=89] = 0·36[12][24][49]9[18][36][73][58][27][55][21][42][85][82][76][64][39][79][70][52][15][30][61][33][67][46]… (l=28)
1/29[b=97] = 0·3[33][43][46][80][26][73][56][83][60][20]6[66][86][93][63][53][50][16][70][23][40][13][36][76][90][30][10]… (l=28)