# Take Three From Five

Caroline and James pick sets of five numbers. Charlie tries to find three that add together to make a multiple of three. Can they stop him?

## Problem

*Take Three from Five printable sheet*

*This problem builds on* What Numbers Can We Make?

Take a look at the video below.

Will Charlie always find three integers that add up to a multiple of 3?

*If you can't see the video, click below to read a description.*

Charlie invited James and Caroline to give him sets of five integers (whole numbers).

Each time he chose three integers that added together to make a multiple of 3:

TOTAL | ||||||

3 | 6 |
5 |
7 |
2 | 18 | |

7 |
17 |
15 |
8 | 10 | 39 | |

20 | 15 |
6 |
11 | 12 |
33 | |

23 |
16 |
9 |
21 | 36 | 48 | |

99 |
57 |
5 | 72 |
23 | 228 | |

312 |
97 |
445 | 452 |
29 | 861 | |

-1 | -1 |
0 |
1 |
1 | 0 |

Charlie challenged Caroline and James to find a set of five integers that didn't include three that added up to a multiple of 3.

**Can you find a set of five integers that doesn't include three integers that add up to a multiple of 3? If not, can you provide a convincing argument that you can always find three integers that add up to a multiple of 3?**

You can test sets of five integers using the interactivity below.

Click here for a poster of this problem.

*Did you know ... ?*

Although number theory - the study of the natural numbers - does not typically feature in school curricula it plays a leading role in university at first year and beyond. Having a good grasp of the fundamentals of number theory is useful across all disciplines of mathematics. Moreover, problems in number theory are a great leisure past time as many require only minimal knowledge of mathematical 'content'.

*We are very grateful to the Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research for their generous support for the development of this resource.*

## Getting Started

Start with the problem What Numbers Can We Make?

Think of a simpler problem:

If you choose two integers from a set of three integers, you can always select two integers that add up to an even number. Can you explain why?

## Student Solutions

Miraya from Heckmondwike Grammar School in the UK wrote:

According to all numbers I have tried, I think it is not possible to find a set of five numbers that do not have a set of three that sum up to a multiple of three.

Samuel from Seely Primary School in England, Jimin (James) from BSKL in Malaysia, Harvey from St Nicholas in the UK, Ekaansh from Dulwich College Beijing in China, Kai and Wesley from Wilson's School in England, Ariel from Diocesan Girls' School in Hong Kong, Aditya from Bishop Vesey's Grammar School in the UK all used the idea of remainders when dividing by 3. Ekaansh wrote:

I do not think this is possible. This is because any integers we pick would be one of these:

- Exactly divisible by 3 e.g. 3,6,9 etc.
- Multiple of 3 plus remainder 1 e.g. 4, 7, 10 etc.
- Multiple of 3 plus remainder 2 e.g. 5, 8, 11 etc.

Harvey represented the numbers in a different way, but the idea the same:

You can have three groups of numbers: multiples of three minus 1, multiples of three, and multiples of three plus one. If you continuously add or subtract three you can get one of three numbers: 1, 2, or 3.

Jimin (James) continued:

We only have to add up these [remainders] (1-2-0) because if they add up and make a number which is a multiple of 3, the left over 3s in the number will make a multiple of 3 anyways.

Samuel explained this idea using letters for the types of number:

I represented the numbers that are one more than a multiple of three as $x$, numbers that are 2 more than a multiple of 3 as $y$, and numbers that are a multiple of 3 as $z$.

$x$+$y$+$z$= a multiple of 3.

Example: 1+2+3=6

$z$+$z$+$z$=a multiple of 3

Example: 3+3+3=9

$y$+$y$+$y$=a multiple of 3

Example: 2+2+2=6

$x$+$x$+$x$=a multiple of 3

Example: 1+1+1=3

Since every number has to be either $x$, $y$ or $z$, and that these combinations work, it is impossible to produce a set of 5 whole numbers that any 3 of them do not add up to a multiple of 3.

This is because in a group of 5, it is not possible to have no groups of 3 [of the same type], whilst also not having one of each type.

This is Ariel's explanation of why there will always be three numbers that add up to a multiple of 3:

First, if there is at least 3 of a kind, there must be 3 integers that add up to a multiple of 3 because any 3 of a kind sums up to a multiple of 3.

Secondly, if there is no 3 of a kind, the combination of the remainders must be 2, 2, 1, in any order. In that case, there must be 3 integers that add up to a multiple of 3 since 0+1+2 sums up to a multiple of 3.

Therefore, there must be 3 integers that add up to a multiple of 3 no matter what 5 integers you choose.

To be absolutely sure that it's impossible, Aditya found all of the possible sets of remainders that 5 numbers could have:

This idea of using remainders is very useful in number theory and is called modular arithmetic.

Emily from Garden International School in Malaysia, Rin from Wren Academy in England, Saanvi from UK, Mahdi from Mahatma Gandhi International School in India, Sanaa from Heckmondwike Grammar School in England and Sunhari all used the same idea, but expressed the numbers using algebra. This is Emily's work:

[All] integer[s] can be divided in three groups which are $3n,$ $3n+1$ or $3n+2$. $n$ can be any whole number.

We have 2 [ways of making a multiple of 3]

The 1st option is we have at least one number from each group. We can use the letters $n,$ $m$ and $l$ to show the different numbers. So when we add up the numbers it'll look something like this, $$3n+(3m+1)+(3l+2)= 3(n+m+l)+3= 3(n+m+l+1)$$As you can see this number is definitely a multiple of $3$ because we can look at the

numbers in the bracket as [an] integer and $3$ has to multiply that number. Therefore $3(n+m+l+1)$ can be divided by $3$.

*Note that $3n, 3n+1$ and $3n+2$ represent a multiple of $3$, the number $1$ more than that multiple of $3$ and the number $2$ more than that multiple of $3$. That is why it is important to use $m$ and $l$ as well as $n$.*

The second option is we have at least three numbers from one group.

Sunhari showed this option algebraically:

$(3t+1) + (3j+1) + (3w+1)$

$= 3t + 1 + 3j + 1 + 3w + 1$

$= 3(t+j+w) + 3$

Therefore, it would be a multiple of $3$.

$(3x+2) + (3g+2) + (3d+2)$

$= 3x + 2 + 3g + 2 + 3d + 2$

$= 3(x+g+d) + 6$

Therefore, it would be a multiple of $3$.

Sanaa and Rin explained carefully why this means that there will always be three numbers that add up to a multiple of three by systematically considering different cases. Here's Rin's explanation:

- If there are three or more multiples of $3$ within the five given numbers, we can add those to make a multiple of $3.$

- If there are one or two multiples of $3$, other three numbers must be either $3n+1$ or $3n+2.$ If the remaining numbers include:
- Three or more $3n+1$ s

We can add these three to get a multiple of 3. - Three or more $3n+1$ s

Similarly, we can add these to get a multiple of 3. - Otherwise

We can pick one each from groups of $3n, 3n+1, 3n+2$ and add together.

- Three or more $3n+1$ s
- If there is no multiple of 3, the five numbers can be written as either $3n+1$ or $3n+2.$

For any combination of five numbers, three or more must be in the form of $3n+1$ or $3n+2.$

Adding numbers in the same group would give a multiple of $3.$

Therefore for every combination of five numbers, there are three numbers that add to give a multiple of $3.$

Saanvi and Mahdi used the same idea, but with $-1$ instead of $2$. Everything else works out the same. Here is some of Mahdi's work.

Shaunak from India, Roy from Dulwich College Beijing in China, Ci Hui from Queensland Academy for Science Mathematics and Technology in Australia, and Ruoshui from UK gave a similar argument to those above, but used notation or language of modular arithmetic. You can read Shaunak's argument here and Roy's here. Ci Hui also included a table showing different options for the three numbers chosen depending on the remainders.

After explaining the case for 5 numbers using similar ideas to those above, Ruoshui then gave the following generalisation:

The problem generalises to $2n - 1$ integers, out of which the sum of $n$ of them is divisible by $n$.

What do you think about this generalisation? Perhaps you could test it using different numbers. Which ideas used above might help you to explore this generalisation?

Jenny from Tapton Secondary School related these arguments with remainders to another principle that can be useful in mathematics: the pigeonhole principle. This says that if you have $n$ pigeon holes and at least $n+1$ pigeons, at least one pigeon hole must contain two or more pigeons. As Jenny notes for this problem,

It works because of the pigeonhole principle. When you divide any integer by three, the remainder is 0, 1, or 2. So, with five numbers, there must be at least three numbers in there that, when their remainders are added, total to a multiple of three.

Can you connect Jenny's explanations with the arguments above?

Thank you to everyone who sent in solutions to this problem!

## Teachers' Resources

### Why do this problem?

This problem looks like a number task, possibly involving revision about multiples, but it becomes a question about establishing why something can never happen, and creating a convincing argument to show this. Students are used to considering the cases where numbers are either odd or even, and here they are being introduced to the idea that numbers can also be categorised into 1 more than, 2 more than, or exactly a multiple of 3. This provides an introduction to number theory and a possible springboard to the ideas of modulo arithmetic.

Algebraic proofs are often seen as the "gold standard" of mathematical rigour, but here is a nice example in which the visual proof can offer a deeper insight into the structure of the numbers modulo 3.

### Possible approach

Allow negative numbers, as long as they will allow you negative multiples of $3$ (and zero).

At some stage there may be mutterings that it's impossible. A possible response might be:

"Well if you think it's impossible, there must be a reason. If you can find a reason then we'll be sure."

Once they have had sufficient thinking time, bring the class together to share ideas.

If it hasn't emerged, share with students Charlie's representation from What Numbers Can We Make?

All numbers fall into one of these 3 categories:

Type A (multiple of $3$, i.e. of the form $3n$)

Type B (of the form $3n+1$)

Type C (of the form $3n+2$)

*We have found that trying to use algebraic expressions as above, is tricky - students often end up with n having two or more values at once. For example, when considering the general sum of a type A, a type B and a type C number, students tend to write $3n+(3n+1)+(3n+2)$ without realising that this restricts them to the sum of three consecutive numbers. Instead students need to realise that they should write something of the form $3n+(3m+1)+(3p+2)$.*

*Students are unlikely to know the notation of modular arithmetic, but the crosses notation above is sufficient for the context, and it suggests a geometrical image that students can use in explaining their ideas.*

"Which combinations of A, B and C give a multiple of three?"

"Can you find examples in our list on the board where you gave me one of those combinations?"

A few minutes later...

"Great, then all you have to do is find a combination of As, Bs and Cs that doesn't include AAA, BBB, CCC or ABC!"

Later still...

*"It's impossible! All the combinations will include either AAA, BBB, CCC or ABC!"*

"OK, but can you prove it? Can you convince me that it's impossible?"

### Possible support

### Possible extension

What size set of integers do you need so that you can always get a multiple of $5$ when selecting $5$ of them?