The Simple Math Problem We Still Can’t Solve — Quanta Magazine

Published by MrHonner on

My latest column for Quanta Magazine explores a simple math problem that no one should try to solve. Even though everyone has probably tried to!

This column comes with a warning: Do not try to solve this math problem.

You will be tempted. This problem is simply stated, easily understood, and all too inviting. Just pick a number, any number: If the number is even, cut it in half; if it’s odd, triple it and add 1. Take that new number and repeat the process, again and again. If you keep this up, you’ll eventually get stuck in a loop. At least, that’s what we think will happen.

The infamous Collatz conjecture has been capturing the attention of mathematicians and recreational problem solvers since it was first introduced in 1937. It seems so simple, yet no one has been able to prove it. Recent progress has been made, however, by none other than Terry Tao, one of the world’s great mathematicians.

You can learn more about Collatz conjecture in my column. Just don’t try to solve it! You’ve been warned.

1 Comment

Amalia · September 24, 2020 at 11:13 am

Buenos Días:
He leído con atención el artículo, y me resultó maravilloso! tanto es así que lo compartí con mis alumnos y amigos. Resultó ser que la mayoría de los varones (hombres) decidieron responderme que ese no es un problema!; mientras que las mujeres se han enfocado más en la aventura de buscar qué era lo que estaba detrás de la consigna. Pregunto, será una cuestión de género? o de cómo está planteada la situación? Para los hombres no hay problema, es sólo una colección de números, ¿qué es un problema matemático?

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