Thursday, 16 December 2010

Mathematical Problems, 1 - The Cube Path

Now that the X-Factory has finished its on-screen cash-making routine, I'm returning to more interesting and productive matters - in this case, a mathematical problem that I first came across nearly 20 years ago.  Yes, I'm that old.

This puzzle was posed as part of a text-based adventure game (remember them?) with a strong mathematical bias - you had to solve certain problems in order to progress through the game.  If I remember rightly, for each part you solved, you were given an item or a shape that would come in useful later in the game.  The game was on the school's Maths Club's BBC Micro, and although I can't remember what it was called, there was one puzzle which I didn't solve at the time (although a friend of mine, James Leeson,did, after we started working on it together).  The puzzle recently resurfaced in my mind earlier this week, and I sat down to apply myself to solving it.

Anyways, enough preamble.  In the game, you met a spider, who had a challenge.  She wanted to walk along each of the 12 edges of a cube in a single continuous path that would take her along each edge twice - once in each direction.  You weren't allowed to go directly back on yourself (i.e. reverse) but at the end of each edge, you had to type in if you wanted to turn left or right.  Although the problem didn't specify that you had to start and finish at the same point, this becomes evident through the symmetry of the problem.  And you have to walk along each edge twice (once in one direction, and once in the reverse) otherwise you're guaranteed to hit a dead end.

I can't say much about the theory behind the solution - or if there's more than one solution - but here's mine (and I'm quite proud of it, nearly two decades later).  Start with A and follow each letter sequentially.  If you label each edge with an arrow as you go along, you'll see that it's a valid solution.

Next time... the same puzzle for a tetrahedron!

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