Real Mathematics – Strange Worlds #18

Every year in December, each city changes drastically. Suddenly we find ourselves surrounded by decorations that remind us of the upcoming new year.

Steve the teacher starts to decorate his classrooms for the new year like he does every year. Though, Steve the teacher set his mind on using new year decorations for his mathematics lessons.

New Year Decorations Game (N.Y.D.G.)

Steve’s creation N.Y.D.G. is a multiplayer game. This is why the game is played in knockout stages/rounds. The winner of the game wins the new year decorations and gets to decorate the classroom as he/she wishes.

Content of N.Y.D.G.

  • In each knockout round, students are given 4 decorations as follows:
  • Players wind the decorations one another.
  • The winding procedure should be done secretly from the opponent.
  • Each player has at most four moves for winding.

Let’s use an example to explain what a “move” means during the winding procedure.

Assume that the first move is made with the red decoration as follows:

This counts as one move. The red one undergoes the blue and green decorations in this move. Let the next two moves are as follows:

In the second move, the yellow decoration undergoes the green and red ones, while the blue one passes over the green and yellow decorations. The illustration (up-right) shows us how the winding looks after these 3 moves.

In the end, winding gives us a braid.

The Goal of The Game

In any round, to knock your opponent out, you should solve the braid of your opponent faster than your opponent solves yours. (Solving a braid means, bringing the decorations to their first state. For instance, in the example given up, the first state is yellow-green-blue-red in order.)

Braids

Braids have a very important part in daily life. We encounter them not just in new year decorations, but also in a piece of cheese, a hairstyle, a basket or even in a bracelet:

In case you wish to understand what braids mean in mathematics; one can take a look at Austrian mathematician Emil Artin’s works from the 1920s.

Let’s call the following an identity braid from now on:

In Steve the teacher’s game, the ambition is to go back to the identity braid from a complex braid in the shortest amount of time. To do that, we can use Artin’s work on braids.

Example One: Solving two ropes.

Assume that we have two ropes tangles with each other as follows:

Red undergoes the green.

The inverse of this rope is:

Green undergoes the red.

If we combine these two ropes, when each rope to be stretched, the result will give us the identity braid:

Example Two: Solving three ropes.

Take three ropes and make a braid as follows:

There are three intersections in this braid:

1: Green over the blue.

2: Red over the green.

3: Blue over the red.

Now, you should repeat these steps, but from last to the first this time. Then, you should do these moves:

Move #1: Blue over the red.

Move #2: Red over the green.

Move #3: Green over the blue.

Finally, the combination will give you the identity braid. Try and see yourself.

Paper and Braids

Take an A4 paper and cut the paper using a knife like the following:

Then, hold the paper from its sides and rotate it 90 degrees to the left. You will end up with some kind of a braid:

One wonders…

  • How can you use Emil Artin’s work in the game of Steve the teacher?
  • In “example two”, rotate the ropes 90 degrees to the left. Start investigating the intersections from left to right. What do you notice?
  • Play Steve the teacher’s game with an A4 paper. (It is more than enough to use 3 or 4 cuts on the paper.)

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu

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