The NRICH team are always looking for new ways to engage teachers and pupils in problem solving. Here we explain the thinking behind maths trails.
This article for teachers describes several games, found on the site, all of which have a related structure that can be used to develop the skills of strategic planning.
An article for teachers and pupils that encourages you to look at the mathematical properties of similar games.
Can you work out how to win this game of Nim? Does it matter if you go first or second?
The number of plants in Mr McGregor's magic potting shed increases overnight. He'd like to put the same number of plants in each of his gardens, planting one garden each day. How can he do it?
Can you find the values at the vertices when you know the values on the edges of these multiplication arithmagons?
This task encourages you to investigate the number of edging pieces and panes in different sized windows.
A game for 2 players with similarities to NIM. Place one counter on each spot on the games board. Players take it is turns to remove 1 or 2 adjacent counters. The winner picks up the last counter.
Can you find the values at the vertices when you know the values on the edges?
Can you explain the strategy for winning this game with any target?
Try entering different sets of numbers in the number pyramids. How does the total at the top change?
A game for 2 players. Set out 16 counters in rows of 1,3,5 and 7. Players take turns to remove any number of counters from a row. The player left with the last counter looses.
Nim-7 game for an adult and child. Who will be the one to take the last counter?
Got It game for an adult and child. How can you play so that you know you will always win?
The Tower of Hanoi is an ancient mathematical challenge. Working on the building blocks may help you to explain the patterns you notice.
Four bags contain a large number of 1s, 3s, 5s and 7s. Pick any ten numbers from the bags above so that their total is 37.
Delight your friends with this cunning trick! Can you explain how it works?
Take a look at the multiplication square. The first eleven triangle numbers have been identified. Can you see a pattern? Does the pattern continue?
Take any two positive numbers. Calculate the arithmetic and geometric means. Repeat the calculations to generate a sequence of arithmetic means and geometric means. Make a note of what happens to the. . . .
The aim of the game is to slide the green square from the top right hand corner to the bottom left hand corner in the least number of moves.
The Egyptians expressed all fractions as the sum of different unit fractions. Here is a chance to explore how they could have written different fractions.
Can you find an efficient method to work out how many handshakes there would be if hundreds of people met?
Can you explain how this card trick works?
15 = 7 + 8 and 10 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4. Can you say which numbers can be expressed as the sum of two or more consecutive integers?
Can all unit fractions be written as the sum of two unit fractions?
A collection of games on the NIM theme
When number pyramids have a sequence on the bottom layer, some interesting patterns emerge...
Start with any number of counters in any number of piles. 2 players take it in turns to remove any number of counters from a single pile. The loser is the player who takes the last counter.
Do you notice anything about the solutions when you add and/or subtract consecutive negative numbers?
You can work out the number someone else is thinking of as follows. Ask a friend to think of any natural number less than 100. Then ask them to tell you the remainders when this number is divided by. . . .
Investigate the different ways that fifteen schools could have given money in a charity fundraiser.
A game for two people, or play online. Given a target number, say 23, and a range of numbers to choose from, say 1-4, players take it in turns to add to the running total to hit their target.
A game for 2 players
It starts quite simple but great opportunities for number discoveries and patterns!
Spotting patterns can be an important first step - explaining why it is appropriate to generalise is the next step, and often the most interesting and important.
These gnomons appear to have more than a passing connection with the Fibonacci sequence. This problem ask you to investigate some of these connections.
We can show that (x + 1)² = x² + 2x + 1 by considering the area of an (x + 1) by (x + 1) square. Show in a similar way that (x + 2)² = x² + 4x + 4
In how many ways can you arrange three dice side by side on a surface so that the sum of the numbers on each of the four faces (top, bottom, front and back) is equal?
To avoid losing think of another very well known game where the patterns of play are similar.
Choose four consecutive whole numbers. Multiply the first and last numbers together. Multiply the middle pair together. What do you notice?
Square numbers can be represented as the sum of consecutive odd numbers. What is the sum of 1 + 3 + ..... + 149 + 151 + 153?
Can you use the diagram to prove the AM-GM inequality?
Find some examples of pairs of numbers such that their sum is a factor of their product. eg. 4 + 12 = 16 and 4 × 12 = 48 and 16 is a factor of 48.
Imagine a large cube made from small red cubes being dropped into a pot of yellow paint. How many of the small cubes will have yellow paint on their faces?
How many moves does it take to swap over some red and blue frogs? Do you have a method?
Imagine starting with one yellow cube and covering it all over with a single layer of red cubes, and then covering that cube with a layer of blue cubes. How many red and blue cubes would you need?
It would be nice to have a strategy for disentangling any tangled ropes...
Pick a square within a multiplication square and add the numbers on each diagonal. What do you notice?
Euler discussed whether or not it was possible to stroll around Koenigsberg crossing each of its seven bridges exactly once. Experiment with different numbers of islands and bridges.
Caroline and James pick sets of five numbers. Charlie chooses three of them that add together to make a multiple of three. Can they stop him?