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Maths Week: Your Thursday puzzle

Fancy another mathematics challenge? (And get the answer to yesterday’s puzzle.)

Image: DPA/PA Images

MATHS WEEK IS under way and, as is our annual tradition, we’re setting our readers some puzzles. Give them a go!

Golden Age of Islamic Maths

A common Euro-centric misconception is that between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance, the world foundered in the dark ages, where everything was miserable, ignorant and well, dark.

This is not true of Europe and certainly not true of other regions in the world.

Learning was flourishing in India.

Mathematics and science also thrived in the Islamic world.

This important period, when acknowledged, is often to dismiss it as a merely being an enterprise of acquiring and translating Greek texts.

The starting point was indeed Greek texts and the decimal system and zero were imported from the Hindu world.

However, the Islamic scholars (and this categorisation includes Jews and Christians and others) advanced learning in maths and science.

The strict requirements in Islam for Salat, times of prayer and direction to Mecca, Qibla spurred great interest in astronomical techniques for location and direction measurement and timekeeping.

This required developments in mathematics. Perhaps the great contribution of Islamic maths is the development of algebra.

The Golden Age of Islamic learning gathered pace in the 9th Century with such figures as al-Khwarizmi, known as the father of algebra.

Algebra is the hunt to unmask unknown numbers and can be traced back further to ancient times. The medieval Islamic civilization made great strides in this area where it was described as the process of “balancing and restoring”.

Algebra derived its modern name from al-jabr, the Arabic word for restoration of broken parts.

Algebraic convention uses “x” as a symbol for the unknown, and “y” for a second unknown, which is typically when modern learners start to have trouble.

The following puzzles can be solved by trial and error but it may be solved quicker with basic school algebra. See how you get on.

Happy Cow Farm is a traditional farm: the milking staff all use traditional three-legged stools.

In the milking parlour, I counted 68 legs and 16 heads.

How many cows and milking staff do you think are there? 

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All puzzles are by Eoin Gill, the coordinator of Maths Week Ireland and director Calmast STEM Engagement Centre, Waterford Institute of Technology

Come back tomorrow for Friday’s puzzle and the answer for today’s.  

Wednesday’s puzzle: The Answer 

 22/7 yojanas further than each previous day to reach his foe’s city in 7 days.

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