In Nonplussed!, popular-math writer Julian Havil delighted readers with a mind-boggling array of implausible yet true mathematical paradoxes. Now Havil is back with Impossible?, another marvelous medley of the utterly confusing, profound, and unbelievable--and all of it mathematically irrefutable. Whenever Forty-second Street in New York is temporarily closed, traffic doesn't gridlock but flows more smoothly--why is that? Or consider that cities that build new roads can experience dramatic increases in traffic congestion--how is this possible? What does the game show Let's Make A Deal reveal about the unexpected hazards of decision-making? What can the game of cricket teach us about the surprising behavior of the law of averages? These are some of the counterintuitive mathematical occurrences that readers encounter in Impossible? Havil ventures further than ever into territory where intuition can lead one astray. He gathers entertaining problems from probability and statistics along with an eclectic variety of conundrums and puzzlers from other areas of mathematics, including classics of abstract math like the Banach-Tarski paradox.
These problems range in difficulty from easy to highly challenging, yet they can be tackled by anyone with a background in calculus. And the fascinating history and personalities associated with many of the problems are included with their mathematical proofs. Impossible? will delight anyone who wants to have their reason thoroughly confounded in the most astonishing and unpredictable ways.
Julian Havil is a retired former master at Winchester College, England, where he taught mathematics for thirty-three years. In addition to "Nonplussed!", he is the author of "Gamma: Exploring Euler's Constant" (both Princeton).
Acknowledgments xi Introduction 1 Chapter 1: It's Common Knowledge 3 Chapter 2: Simpson's Paradox 11 Chapter 3: The Impossible Problem 21 Chapter 4: Braess's Paradox 31 Chapter 5: The Power of Complex Numbers 39 Chapter 6: Bucking the Odds 50 Chapter 7: Cantor's Paradise 68 Chapter 8: Gamow-Stern Elevators 82 Chapter 9: The Toss of a Coin 88 Chapter 10: Wild-Card Poker 103 Chapter 11: Two Series 113 Chapter 12: Two Card Tricks 131 Chapter 13: The Spin of a Needle 146 Chapter 14: The Best Choice 165 Chapter 15: The Power of Powers 176 Chapter 16: Benford's Law 190 Chapter 17: Goodstein Sequences 201 Chapter 18: The Banach-Tarski Paradox 210 The Motifs 217 Appendix 221 Index 233