- Problem
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A sequence of numbers x1, x2, x3, ... starts with x1 = 2, and, if you know any term xn, you can find the next term xn+1 using the formula: xn+1 = (xn + 3/xn)/2 . Calculate the first six terms of this sequence. What do you notice? Calculate a few more terms and find the squares of the terms. Can you prove that the special property you notice about this sequence will apply to all the later terms of the sequence? Write down a formula to give an approximation to the cube root of a number and test it for the cube root of 3 and the cube root of 8. How many terms of the sequence do you have to take before you get the cube root of 8 correct to as many decimal places as your calculator will give? What happens when you try this method for fourth roots or fifth roots etc.?

When in 1821 Charles Babbage invented the `Difference Engine' it was intended to take over the work of making mathematical tables by the techniques described in this article.

Challenge Level

This challenge cipher forms part of a very difficult sequence of ciphers suitable for keen groups or individuals, maths clubs and very optional homework challenges. Don't try this in the classroom!

The NRICH Project aims to enrich the mathematical experiences of all learners. To support this aim, members of the
NRICH team work in a wide range of capacities, including providing professional development for teachers wishing to
embed rich mathematical tasks into everyday classroom practice.

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NRICH is part of the family of activities in the Millennium Mathematics Project.

NRICH is part of the family of activities in the Millennium Mathematics Project.