Holiday Math Treats

The holidays are a perfect time to unwind, reflect, and spend time with loved ones. For me, it is also a great time to browse the internet for fun activities to do. In this post, I highlight some of the mathematics inspired holidays internet treats you can explore and share with others!

Holiday Inspired Crafts and Puzzles

In her blog, “Math = Love”, Sarah Carter compiled a list of “Must Share: Math-y Christmas Ideas” that are ideal for the classroom but also great to do at home. I loved the idea of making icosahedron ornament balls as decorations for Christmas trees or your office. 

Icosahedron Ornament Balls from the “Math = Love” blog.

If you are looking for Christmas and Hanukkah puzzles take a look Almost Surely Math’s blog post “5 Holiday Math Puzzles”.  One of my favorites is the 2n-Menora puzzle.

The 2n-Menorah: In an alternate universe, instead of the flask in the temple lasting for just 8 days, it lasted for 2n days for a positive integer n. Thus, Hanukkah in that universe is celebrated for 2n days, and the menorah has 2n+1 candles (including the shammash):

A 2n-Menorah illustration from Almost Surely Math.

On the first day, 1 regular candle is lit and also the shammash. On the second, 2 regular candles and the shammash. And so on until the 2n-th day where 2n regular candles are lit alongside the shammash. How many candles do you need for the whole of Hanukkah in that universe? (Note that the shammash is just the name for the candle put in the center, which is traditionally used to light the other ones. No candle is reused.)

Best Math Moments of 2019

If you are a fan of lists like me,  you’ll enjoy reading about the best math “treats”/moments of 2019. In the Biggest Math Breakthroughs of 2019″, David Linkletter highlights that 2019 was a great year for getting closer to answering old questions and developing new techniques.

“In 2019, math seemed to have many mainstream moments—and that’s not including the viral problems that made us want to rip our hair out. This year saw a steady stream of answers (or at least partial answers) to tough questions that had puzzled mathematicians for decades, as well as new techniques that captured our attention in a big way. Here are the numbers—and the minds behind them—that mattered most this year.” – David Linkletter

Also, as described by Bill Andrews in  “The Year in Math and Computer Science”,

“For mathematicians and computer scientists, this was often a year of double takes and closer looks. Some reexamined foundational principles, while others found shockingly simple proofs, new techniques or unexpected insights in long-standing problems. Some of these advances have broad applications in physics and other scientific disciplines. Others are purely for the sake of gaining new knowledge (or just having fun), with little to no known practical use at this time. Other fun insights into the world of numbers this year include finally discovering a way to express 33 as the sum of three cubes, proving a long-standing conjecture about when you can approximate irrational numbers like pi and deepening the connections between the sums and products of a set of numbers.”  – Bill Andrews

Some of the big math moments have also been featured in previous blog posts such as  (Re)Discovering Identities, “With Category Theory, Mathematics Escapes From Equality”: Rachel Crowell’s Take, and “Karen Uhlenbeck: Congratulations and Thank You”.

Getting ready for 2020

Book lovers rejoice! If you were already preparing your 2020 “to-be-read” list, take a look at Evelyn Lamb’s “Math Reading Challenge” in which she has provided 12 prompts along with suggestions to help you find mathematics-related books for the coming year. My favorite three prompts are,

  1. A math book that helps you make something
    Crafting Conundrums: Puzzles and Patterns for the Bead Crochet Artist by Ellie Baker and Susan Goldstine
    Making Mathematics with Needlework, edited by sarah-marie belcastro and Carolyn Yackel​​​​​​​
    Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Daina Taimina
  2. A nonfiction math book written by a woman
    Beyond Infinity: An Expedition to the Outer Limits of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng​​​​​​​
    Mathematics in India by Kim Plofker​​​​​​​
    Power in Numbers: The Rebel Women of Mathematics by Talithia Williams
  3. A math-related book published the year you were born
    For me, that’s 1983. Your mileage may vary.
    Discrete mathematics: A Computational Approach Using BASIC by Marvin Marcus
    Invitation to Geometry by Z. A. Melzak

For the last prompt, if you are born in 1990 like me, you might try reading “Reaching for Infinity” by Stan Gibilisco or “Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics by William Dunham. You can find inspiration on the Goodreads group or if you want to try getting “Free Springer Science Books” you can use the R code provided in the Learning Machines blog to update your library.

As we close out the year, I wish you all happy holidays and look forward to the many new math treats to come. Do you have suggestions of topics or blogs you would like us to consider covering in upcoming posts? Reach out to us in the comments below or let us know on Twitter (@MissVRiveraQ)

About Vanessa Rivera-Quinones

Mathematics Ph.D. with a passion for telling stories through numbers using mathematical models, data science, science communication, and education. Follow her on Twitter: @VRiveraQPhD.
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2 Responses to Holiday Math Treats

  1. Raul Martinez says:

    Hi Vanessa,

    It’s great to see a fellow Puerto Rican write about math. I enjoy your posts. Keep up the good work! Happy new year!

    Best wishes, Raúl Martínez

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