Poulet’s Propeller

The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers (1986) is one of my favourite books. It’s a fascinating mixture of math, mathecdote and math-joke:

2·618 0333…

The square of φ, the golden ratio, and the only positive number such that √n = n-1. (pg. 45)


6

Kepler discussed the 6-fold symmetry of snowflakes, and attempted to explain it by considering the close packing of spheres in a hexagonal array. (pg. 69)


39

This appears to be the first uninteresting number, which of course makes it an especially interesting number, because it is the smallest number to have the property of being uninteresting.

It is therefore also the first number to be simultaneously interesting and uninteresting. (pg. 120)

David Wells, who wrote the Dictionary, “had the rare distinction of being a Cambridge scholar in mathematics and failing his degree”. He must be the mathematical equivalent of the astronomer Patrick Moore: a popularizer responsible for opening many minds and inspiring many careers. He’s also written books on geometry and mathematical puzzles. But not everyone appreciates his efforts. This is a sideswipe in a review of William Hartston’s The Book of Numbers:

Thankfully, this book is more concerned with facts than mathematics. Anyone wanting to learn more about [π] or the Fibonacci sequence should turn to the Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers, a volume which none but propeller-heads will find either curious or interesting. (Review in The Independent, 18th December 1997)


Continue reading: Poulet’s Propeller

Factory Records

The factors of n are those numbers that divide n without remainder. So the factors of 6 are 1, 2, 3 and 6. If the function s(n) is defined as “the sum of the factors of n, excluding n, then s(6) = 1 + 2 + 3 = 6. This makes 6 a perfect number: its factors re-create it. 28 is another perfect number. The factors of 28 are 1, 2, 4, 7, 14 and 28, so s(28) = 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14 = 28. Other perfect numbers are 496 and 8128. And they’re perfect in any base.

Amicable numbers are amicable in any base too. The factors of an amicable number sum to a second number whose factors sum to the first number. So s(220) = 284, s(284) = 220. That pair may have been known to Pythagoras (c.570-c.495 BC), but s(1184) = 1210, s(1210) = 1184 was discovered by an Italian schoolboy called Nicolò Paganini in 1866. There are also sociable chains, in which s(n), s(s(n)), s(s(s(n))) create a chain of numbers that leads back to n, like this:

12496 → 14288 → 15472 → 14536 → 14264 → 12496 (c=5)

Or this:

14316 → 19116 → 31704 → 47616 → 83328 → 177792 → 295488 → 629072 → 589786 → 294896 → 358336 → 418904 → 366556 → 274924 → 275444 → 243760 → 376736 → 381028 → 285778 → 152990 → 122410 → 97946 → 48976 → 45946 → 22976 → 22744 → 19916 → 17716 → 14316 (c=28)

Those sociable chains were discovered (and christened) in 1918 by the Belgian mathematician Paul Poulet (1887-1946). Other factor-sum patterns are dependant on the base they’re expressed in. For example, s(333) = 161. So both n and s(n) are palindromes in base-10. Here are more examples — the numbers in brackets are the prime factors of n and s(n):

333 (3^2, 37) → 161 (7, 23)
646 (2, 17, 19) → 434 (2, 7, 31)
656 (2^4, 41) → 646 (2, 17, 19)
979 (11, 89) → 101 (prime)
1001 (7, 11, 13) → 343 (7^3)
3553 (11, 17, 19) → 767 (13, 59)
10801 (7, 1543) → 1551 (3, 11, 47)
11111 (41, 271) → 313 (prime)
18581 (17, 1093) → 1111 (11, 101)
31713 (3, 11, 31^2) → 15951 (3, 13, 409)
34943 (83, 421) → 505 (5, 101)
48484 (2^2, 17, 23, 31) → 48284 (2^2, 12071)
57375 (3^3, 5^3, 17) → 54945 (3^3, 5, 11, 37)
95259 (3, 113, 281) → 33333 (3, 41, 271)
99099 (3^2, 7, 11^2, 13) → 94549 (7, 13, 1039)
158851 (7, 11, 2063) → 39293 (prime)
262262 (2, 7, 11, 13, 131) → 269962 (2, 7, 11, 1753)
569965 (5, 11, 43, 241) → 196691 (11, 17881)
1173711 (3, 7, 11, 5081) → 777777 (3, 7^2, 11, 13, 37)

Note how s(656) = 646 and s(646) = 434. There’s an even longer sequence in base-495:

33 → 55 → 77 → 99 → [17][17] → [19][19] → [21][21] → [43][43] → [45][45] → [111][111] → [193][193] → [195][195] → [477][477] (b=495) (c=13)
1488 (2^4, 3, 31) → 2480 (2^4, 5, 31) → 3472 (2^4, 7, 31) → 4464 (2^4, 3^2, 31) → 8432 (2^4, 17, 31) → 9424 (2^4, 19, 31) → 10416 (2^4, 3, 7, 31) → 21328 (2^4, 31, 43) → 22320 (2^4, 3^2, 5, 31) → 55056 (2^4, 3, 31, 37) → 95728 (2^4, 31, 193) → 96720 (2^4, 3, 5, 13, 31) → 236592 (2^4, 3^2, 31, 53)

I also tried looking for n whose s(n) mirrors n. But they’re hard to find in base-10. The first example is this:

498906 (2, 3^3, 9239) → 609894 (2, 3^2, 31, 1093)

498906 mirrors 609894, because the digits of each run in reverse to the digits of the other. Base-9 does better for mirror-sums, clocking up four in the same range of integers:

42 → 24 (base=9)
38 (2, 19) → 22 (2, 11)
402 → 204 (base=9)
326 (2, 163) → 166 (2, 83)
4002 → 2004 (base=9)
2918 (2, 1459) → 1462 (2, 17, 43)
5544 → 4455 (base=9)
4090 (2, 5, 409) → 3290 (2, 5, 7, 47)

Base-11 does better still, clocking up eight in the same range:

42 → 24 (base=11)
46 (2, 23) → 26 (2, 13)
2927 → 7292 (base=11)
3780 (2^2, 3^3, 5, 7) → 9660 (2^2, 3, 5, 7, 23)
4002 → 2004 (base=11)
5326 (2, 2663) → 2666 (2, 31, 43)
13772 → 27731 (base=11)
19560 (2^3, 3, 5, 163) → 39480 (2^3, 3, 5, 7, 47)
4[10]7[10]9 → 9[10]7[10]4 (base=11)
72840 (2^3, 3, 5, 607) → 146040 (2^3, 3, 5, 1217)
6929[10] → [10]9296 (base=11)
100176 (2^4, 3, 2087) → 158736 (2^4, 3, 3307)
171623 → 326171 (base=11)
265620 (2^2, 3, 5, 19, 233) → 520620 (2^2, 3, 5, 8677)
263702 → 207362 (base=11)
414790 (2, 5, 41479) → 331850 (2, 5^2, 6637)

Note that 42 mirrors its factor-sum in both base-9 and base-11. But s(42) = 24 in infinitely many bases, because when 42 = 2 x prime, s(42) = 1 + 2 + prime. So (prime-1) / 2 will give the base in which 24 = s(42). For example, 2 x 11 = 22 and 22 = 42 in base (11-1) / 2 or base-5. So s(42) = 1 + 2 + 11 = 14 = 2 x 5 + 4 = 24[b=5]. There are infinitely many primes, so infinitely many bases in which s(42) = 24.

Base-10 does better for mirror-sums when s(n) is re-defined to include n itself. So s(69) = 1 + 3 + 23 + 69 = 96. Here are the first examples of all-factor mirror-sums in base-10:

69 (3, 23) → 96 (2^5, 3)
276 (2^2, 3, 23) → 672 (2^5, 3, 7)
639 (3^2, 71) → 936 (2^3, 3^2, 13)
2556 (2^2, 3^2, 71) → 6552 (2^3, 3^2, 7, 13)

In the same range, base-9 now produces one mirror-sum, 13 → 31 = 12 (2^2, 3) → 28 (2^2, 7). Base-11 produces no mirror-sums in the same range. Base behaviour is eccentric, but that’s what makes it interesting.