How can you identify a lover of math? Casually mention a burning tent and notice if her first thought is how to minimize her path to a river and then to the tent to douse the flames. Here is a full statement of this classic geometry problem:

In a 2018 blog post, I presented George Gamow's pirate treasure problem, which can neatly be solved by capitalizing on the geometry of complex numbers. There's more treasure to be had, however, so get ready for another adventure!

An island contains a giant boulder, a lighthouse, a cave, and a jail. Among … Continue Reading ››

In my prior blog posts, I've presented methods for constructing ellipses and parabolas using both Web Sketchpad and paper folding. Now it's time for me to finally turn my attention to hyperbolas.

All of the Web Sketchpad models below (and here) are based on the distance definition of a hyperbola: the set of … Continue Reading ››

In last month's blog post, I described a parabola construction technique dating back to the work of Persian polymath Ibn Sina (c. 970 – 1037). After I published the post, my colleague Scott noted that my construction could be more robust to allow for parabolas that are downward facing as well as upward facing. … Continue Reading ››

There can never be enough conic-section construction techniques—at least that's my philosophy, having grown up to think that conics existed purely in the realm of algebraic equations. So to continue my conic section construction series on Sine of the Times, I'll present a parabola construction attributed to Ibn Sina (Avicenna), a Persian polymath (c. 970 – … Continue Reading ››

In my prior blog posts, I've presented methods for constructing ellipses using Web Sketchpad and paper folding. The other conic sections are feeling a bit left out, so let's explore some techniques for constructing parabolas.

Here's what to do: Draw or print a circle and its center, point A, on a sheet of paper. Cut out the circle. Mark a random point B anywhere on the circle. Then, fold … Continue Reading ››

In a prior blog post, I described the pins-and-string approach to drawing an ellipse: Press two pins into a corkboard, place a loop of string around the pins, pull the string tight with a pencil, and trace the pencil tip's path as you pull the pencil around the taut string. Guaranteeing that the traced … Continue Reading ››

The 17th-century Dutch mathematician Frans van Schooten developed "hands-on manipulatives" centuries before the term became popular in math education circles. Below are two images of ellipse-drawing linkages from van Schooten's manuscript, Sive de Organica Conicarum Sectionum in Plano Descriptione, Tractatus (A Treatise on Devices for Drawing Conic Sections).