the old college try
BaCk in My UnDERgRaDUaTE DayS at Whatsamatta University,
i was particularly active in the mathematics department’s recruiting pro-
gram. The department sent us out to college prep nights at high schools
all around the country, to try and drum up interest in Whatsamatta U.
Since most college nights occurred in
early fall, those of us in the recruiting program were given automatic passes on all
our homework and tests any time we were
out on the road. As the program’s secretary,
I was able to schedule my road trips with
particularly strategic results—I never took
an exam in either my junior or senior year.
One of the responsibilities that came
with the secretary’s position was acquiring “merch” to hand out to the kids at
the various high schools. We had pens
(with the slogan “Make your mark at
Whatsamatta U.”), T-shirts, bouncy balls,
fans, Frisbee discs, notebooks, lockets,
wristbands, baseball caps, pocket calendars, and yardsticks.
This puzzle is about yardsticks.
I hated dealing with the merch. We
gave out tons of material and were constantly having to resupply. Our suppliers
were forever going out of business, and
I spent a lot of time on the phone arranging
for stuff to be shipped to different places.
Invariably, other people in the program
would complain that they liked the old
Frisbee better or that the pens leaked, and
I then would have to spend a lot of time
defending the supplier in order to keep my
secretarial position (and protect my GPA).
The last purchase I ever made was for
yardsticks. Keep in mind that very little
manufacturing of yardsticks goes on in
the United States anymore and that vir-
tually all the rest of the world uses the
metric system. As a result, what should
have been a pretty simple spec sheet
(Yardstick, printed with “Measure up at
Whatsamatta U.” in school colors) be-
came fairly complicated (Stick, 0.9144
meters long, marked at intervals of 2. 54
centimeters with a straight line, etc.).
I then had to translate it into three or
four languages and send it off to the
various factories around the world that
make measuring sticks to order. It’s not
so surprising, under the circumstances,
that something went wrong.
previous issue’s puzzle
Leaving Las Vegas
I recently had the opportunity to visit again with my old friend Maxwell
Chance. You may remember from an
earlier puzzle (“Beating the House,”
January/February 2009) that Max is
a quirky but probably harmless fellow
with something of a gambling problem.
Granted, as an actuary you might think
that any gambling is a problem: We’re
generally not known for creating risk!
Max assured me, however, that his
gambling problem was cured. “In fact,”
he said, “I haven’t gambled at all since I
got back from Vegas.”
I know that sounds bad, but he was
there for a professional conference. The
story he told me was that near the end of
the conference, he found himself short
on cash. In fact, he had only $120. The
bus fare home cost $240. Max settled on
a dubious strategy for making up the nec-
essary difference—a trip to the roulette
table, where he planned to bet on red.
Max had a backup plan if things
didn’t pan out. “I could’ve called my
girlfriend Minerva,” he said. “But that
would’ve been embarrassing.”
The first part of this issue’s puzzle
arises out of Max’s dilemma. Given N
bets of M dollars, N and M both inte-
gers, N*M = 120, what value maximizes
the odds of doubling your money play-
ing American roulette? (That’s 0, 00,
and 1-36; the zeros are green, 18 of the
remaining slots are red.)
“The only question I had was how
much to bet. I decided I either would bet
120 times, at $1 per bet; or 60 times, at
$2 per bet; or 40 times, at $3 per bet; or,
well, you get the idea,” Max explained.
“I was going to make some number of
bets, the same amount each time. But I
wanted to maximize my odds of actually
getting to $240, so I had to calculate the
best number of bets to make.”
Solutions may be e-mailed
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by received by Nov. 30, 2010.