Scott Kim: The Power of Puzzle Creation

Guest Author: Hana Lobsinger

In his Ted Talk, The Art of Puzzles, puzzle master Scott Kim walks the audience through his career of designing puzzles, displaying his passion and the meaning behind his work. Puzzles can be described in different ways and come in a variety of forms. In his talk, Kim defines a puzzle as a “problem that is fun to solve and has a right answer.” Not only does he think of them as a kind of hobby or entertaining activity, he states that puzzles are a form of art that he has dedicated himself to for over 20 years. Starting at a young age, Scott Kim gained an interest in creating puzzles and turned his passion into a career. His main goal in his work Hana Lobsinger_925505_assignsubmission_file_Scott Kim Puzzle Masteris to create puzzles that are memorable and leave a lasting impression.

When we think of puzzles, we might initially think of the typical puzzles like jigsaw, crossword, or games like chess. Scott Kim’s work falls outside of this mold. As a puzzle master, he has created a wide variety of puzzles. In this talk, he breaks up his journey into multiple parts. He begins with his first time creating an original puzzle with the “folded letter.” His interest shifted to the perception-altering form of puzzles called “figure ground,” then to games and investigative reporting for publications like Discover Magazine. Most recently, his focus has turned to online games connected to social media, specifically through his website that he created with his wife, Amy Jo Kim.

Puzzles are an important part of the history of mathematics. Further research on puzzle creation makes it evident that many famous mathematicians showed interest in the subject. Scott Kim explains in his talk how he is not interested in working from someone else’s matrix (like crossword puzzles or Sudoku), but instead prefers to create original and noteworthy things. Besides providing a mentally stimulating form of entertainment for people of all ages, how can puzzles be used in constructive ways in society? Kim aims to answer this question by channeling his intelligence and creative energy in productive ways through his work. His approach appeals to the aging population, especially those interested in maintaining brain health. Studies have shown that engaging in puzzles and stimulating games improves brain function. Kim published a book with neuroscientist Richard Restak titled “THE PLAYFUL BRAIN: The Surprising Science Of How Puzzles Improve Your Mind,” which explains the reasons why activities like these mentioned have a positive effect.

In this talk, Scott Kim points a few ways the world of gaming is changing. First is that the online computer game audience has expanded. He also mentioned the increasing popularity of games that are healthy for your brain and the social media craze. Bringing these ideas together, Kim aims to create games and puzzles that fit the modern world. Combining his wife’s expertise in social media and his in puzzles and software development, they created their website. The website caters to online gamers and incorporates puzzle games that exercise your brain. An example that he shows in his talk is a game called “Photograb,” which is meant to enhance visual skills. The game tests your ability to recognize a magnified piece of an image by looking at the regular sized image. These types of puzzle promote brain health and may help players to avoid diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. As more people learn about and begin using puzzles as a tool to maintain brain function, the effect could be very beneficial. Overall, I think that Kim’s progressive approach to puzzle creation is very interesting and something that could make a huge impact on the future of online gaming and beliefs about brain health.

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ALTER, ALEXANDRA. “The Mind of a Master Brain Teaser.” Wall Street Journal Eastern Edition 14 May 2011: C11. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Restak, Richard M., and Scott Kim. The Playful Brain: The Surprising Science of How Puzzles Improve Your Mind. New York: Riverhead, 2010. Print.
“THE PLAYFUL BRAIN: The Surprising Science Of How Puzzles Improve Your Mind.” Kirkus Reviews 78.19 (2010): 983. Academic Search Complete. Web.
“Tribute To A Mathemagician.” (2005): MathSciNet via EBSCOhost. Web.
Winkler, Peter. “Famous Puzzles Of Great Mathematicians.” American Mathematical Monthly 118.7 (2011): 661-664. Academic Search Complete. Web.

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Infinity Elephants and Gabriel’s Horn

Guest Author: Brian Hook

A screenshot of Vi Hart's "Infinity Elephants" video which creatively addresses infinite series.

A screenshot of Vi Hart’s “Infinity Elephants” video which creatively addresses infinite series.

Vi Hart’s Doodling in Math Class: Infinity Elephants is a fun little video that brushes over many mathematical concepts without getting bogged down in technical jargon. Vi, a prolific recreational mathematician who also contributes heavily to Khan Academy, starts the video off by discussing infinite series such as ½ + ¼ + 1/8 + 1/16 + 1/32 + … = 1 and the issue of convergence of series. As you can see in the screenshot here, Vi draws elephants of length  ½, 1/4, 1/8… of a page and relates this drawing to the idea of convergent series.

Watching the video reminded me of the dilemma Continue reading “Infinity Elephants and Gabriel’s Horn” »

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Nate Silver and the Stylish Statistics of Predicting Elections

Guest Author: Michael Dimock

Nate Silver speaking at SXSW in 2009. Photo by Randy Stewart, available under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Nate Silver speaking at SXSW in 2009. Photo by Randy Stewart, available under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Nate Silver is a statistics guru whose claim to fame has come from correctly predicting 49 of the 50 states in the 2008 presidential election as well as all 35 senate races. He then showed that this performance was far from a fluke as he gave another outstanding prediction for the 2012 U.S. election. A leader in the field of political statistics, he is the founder and editor-in-chief of his popular website FiveThirtyEight. Extending far beyond major political elections, the website also works with the statistics of sports, science, health, economics, and culture. Nate Silver can be referred to as both a star and a statistician—a combination that sounds more like a contradiction than a reality.

Being a mathematics major, I have learned to never blindly trust the statistics that show up in news reports, and Nate Silver is often one of the first to warn others to be wary of statistics presented in the media. A good intro piece to Silver’s statistical style and ability is the following video where Silver explores Continue reading “Nate Silver and the Stylish Statistics of Predicting Elections” »

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Higher Dimensional Polytopes

A guest post by Bobby Holmquist:

It is common in sci-fi literature to hear about higher special dimensions. In Star Trek and Star Wars, one is able to access faster-than-light travel by accessing warp speed or hyperspace, respectively. In both of these cases, space time is being bent or “warped” into the fourth dimension which allows for faster-than-light travel without actually breaking the speed of light. By adding a fourth special dimension to space-time, we are able to then “fold” space and instantaneously jump from one point to the next. Think about space-time like a piece of paper where you want to get from one point to the other. In normal space-time, the obvious answer is a straight line but by adding a third dimension of maneuverability, we are able to fold the paper and put the two points right next to each other and so are able to move from A to B instantaneously. This is how faster-than-light travel would work; we would bend space-time into the fourth dimension putting the points right next to each other.

Continue reading “Higher Dimensional Polytopes” »

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OKCupid: The Math Behind Online Dating

Guest Author: Michalina Malysz

“Like you use sentences to tell a person a story; you use algorithms to tell a story to a computer” (Rudder 2013).

In today’s day and age, we have the world at our fingertips. The internet has made many things easier, including dating, allowing us to interact and connect with a plethora of new people–even those that were deemed unreachable just fifteen minutes beforehand.

Inside OKCupid: The math behind online dating talks about the math formula that is used to match people with others on the website OKCupid, the number one website behind online dating. Continue reading “OKCupid: The Math Behind Online Dating” »

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