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Topic: **Mathematics**

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# π Illegal prime

An **illegal prime** is a prime number that represents information whose possession or distribution is forbidden in some legal jurisdictions. One of the first illegal primes was found in 2001. When interpreted in a particular way, it describes a computer program that bypasses the digital rights management scheme used on DVDs. Distribution of such a program in the United States is illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. An illegal prime is a kind of illegal number.

### Discussed on

- "Illegal Prime Numbers" | 2021-04-12 | 218 Upvotes 107 Comments
- "Illegal prime" | 2018-04-27 | 267 Upvotes 192 Comments
- "Illegal prime" | 2016-11-22 | 39 Upvotes 26 Comments
- "Illegal prime number" | 2014-07-30 | 59 Upvotes 30 Comments
- "Illegal Prime Numbers" | 2013-10-17 | 178 Upvotes 58 Comments
- "Illegal prime" | 2010-01-11 | 152 Upvotes 76 Comments

# π Potato Paradox

The **potato paradox** is a mathematical calculation that has a counter-intuitive result. *The Universal Book of Mathematics* states the problem as follows:

Fred brings home 100 kg of potatoes, which (being purely mathematical potatoes) consist of 99% water. He then leaves them outside overnight so that they consist of 98% water. What is their new weight? The surprising answer is 50 kg.

In Quine's classification of paradoxes, the potato paradox is a veridical paradox.

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- "Potato Paradox" | 2022-11-28 | 35 Upvotes 14 Comments
- "Potato paradox" | 2018-08-12 | 232 Upvotes 77 Comments
- "Potato paradox" | 2015-07-15 | 559 Upvotes 132 Comments

# π Simpson's Paradox

**Simpson's paradox**, which goes by several names, is a phenomenon in probability and statistics, in which a trend appears in several different groups of data but disappears or reverses when these groups are combined. This result is often encountered in social-science and medical-science statistics and is particularly problematic when frequency data is unduly given causal interpretations. The paradox can be resolved when causal relations are appropriately addressed in the statistical modeling.

Simpson's paradox has been used as an exemplar to illustrate to the non-specialist or public audience the kind of misleading results mis-applied statistics can generate. Martin Gardner wrote a popular account of Simpson's paradox in his March 1976 Mathematical Games column in *Scientific American*.

Edward H. Simpson first described this phenomenon in a technical paper in 1951, but the statisticians Karl Pearson et al., in 1899, and Udny Yule, in 1903, had mentioned similar effects earlier. The name *Simpson's paradox* was introduced by Colin R. Blyth in 1972.

It is also referred to as or **Simpson's reversal**, **YuleβSimpson effect**, **amalgamation paradox**, or **reversal paradox**.

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- "Simpson's Paradox" | 2024-03-11 | 365 Upvotes 106 Comments
- "Simpsonβs Paradox" | 2022-02-06 | 11 Upvotes 3 Comments
- "Simpson's paradox" | 2011-07-29 | 174 Upvotes 34 Comments
- "Simpson's paradox: why mistrust seemingly simple statistics" | 2009-08-28 | 152 Upvotes 17 Comments

# π 0.999...= 1

In mathematics, **0.999...** (also written as **0.9**, among other ways) denotes the repeating decimal consisting of infinitely many 9s after the decimal point (and one 0 before it). This repeating decimal represents the smallest number no less than every decimal number in the sequence (0.9, 0.99, 0.999, ...). This number is equal to 1. In other words, "0.999..." and "1" represent the same number. There are many ways of showing this equality, from intuitive arguments to mathematically rigorous proofs. The technique used depends on the target audience, background assumptions, historical context, and preferred development of the real numbers, the system within which 0.999... is commonly defined. (In other systems, 0.999... can have the same meaning, a different definition, or be undefined.)

More generally, every nonzero terminating decimal has two equal representations (for example, 8.32 and 8.31999...), which is a property of all base representations. The utilitarian preference for the terminating decimal representation contributes to the misconception that it is the only representation. For this and other reasonsβsuch as rigorous proofs relying on non-elementary techniques, properties, or disciplinesβsome people can find the equality sufficiently counterintuitive that they question or reject it. This has been the subject of several studies in mathematics education.

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- "0.999...= 1" | 2020-04-28 | 218 Upvotes 626 Comments

# π Braessβs paradox

**Braess' paradox** is the observation that adding one or more roads to a road network can slow down overall traffic flow through it. The paradox was postulated in 1968 by German mathematician Dietrich Braess, who noticed that adding a road to a particular congested road traffic network would increase overall journey time.

The paradox may have analogies in electrical power grids and biological systems. It has been suggested that in theory, the improvement of a malfunctioning network could be accomplished by removing certain parts of it. The paradox has been used to explain instances of improved traffic flow when existing major roads are closed.

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- "Braess's Paradox" | 2021-05-16 | 64 Upvotes 30 Comments
- "Braessβs paradox" | 2018-09-22 | 134 Upvotes 37 Comments
- "Braessβ paradox" | 2017-01-08 | 136 Upvotes 91 Comments
- "Braess' paradox: adding a new road to a city can slow down traffic" | 2015-10-16 | 98 Upvotes 61 Comments

# π Langton's Ant

**Langton's ant** is a two-dimensional universal Turing machine with a very simple set of rules but complex emergent behavior. It was invented by Chris Langton in 1986 and runs on a square lattice of black and white cells. The universality of Langton's ant was proven in 2000. The idea has been generalized in several different ways, such as turmites which add more colors and more states.

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- "Langtonβs ant" | 2023-05-17 | 102 Upvotes 23 Comments
- "Langton's Ant" | 2019-06-07 | 115 Upvotes 25 Comments
- "Langton's ant" | 2014-09-03 | 118 Upvotes 42 Comments
- "Langton's ant" | 2011-02-17 | 176 Upvotes 20 Comments

# π The German tank problem

In the statistical theory of estimation, the **German tank problem** consists of estimating the maximum of a discrete uniform distribution from sampling without replacement. In simple terms, suppose we have an unknown number of items which are sequentially numbered from 1 to *N*. We take a random sample of these items and observe their sequence numbers; the problem is to estimate *N* from these observed numbers.

The problem can be approached using either frequentist inference or Bayesian inference, leading to different results. Estimating the population maximum based on a *single* sample yields divergent results, whereas estimation based on *multiple* samples is a practical estimation question whose answer is simple (especially in the frequentist setting) but not obvious (especially in the Bayesian setting).

The problem is named after its historical application by Allied forces in World War II to the estimation of the monthly rate of German tank production from very few data. This exploited the manufacturing practice of assigning and attaching ascending sequences of serial numbers to tank components (chassis, gearbox, engine, wheels), with some of the tanks eventually being captured in battle by Allied forces.

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- "German Tank Problem" | 2023-11-26 | 39 Upvotes 7 Comments
- "The German tank problem" | 2016-12-03 | 64 Upvotes 6 Comments
- "German tank problem" | 2014-02-21 | 231 Upvotes 83 Comments
- "German tank problem" | 2011-03-02 | 28 Upvotes 1 Comments
- "The German Tank Problem" | 2009-06-23 | 103 Upvotes 18 Comments

# π Secretary Problem

The **secretary problem** is a problem that demonstrates a scenario involving optimal stopping theory. The problem has been studied extensively in the fields of applied probability, statistics, and decision theory. It is also known as the **marriage problem**, the **sultan's dowry problem**, the **fussy suitor problem**, the **googol game**, and the **best choice problem**.

The basic form of the problem is the following: imagine an administrator who wants to hire the best secretary out of $n$ rankable applicants for a position. The applicants are interviewed one by one in random order. A decision about each particular applicant is to be made immediately after the interview. Once rejected, an applicant cannot be recalled. During the interview, the administrator gains information sufficient to rank the applicant among all applicants interviewed so far, but is unaware of the quality of yet unseen applicants. The question is about the optimal strategy (stopping rule) to maximize the probability of selecting the best applicant. If the decision can be deferred to the end, this can be solved by the simple maximum selection algorithm of tracking the running maximum (and who achieved it), and selecting the overall maximum at the end. The difficulty is that the decision must be made immediately.

The shortest rigorous proof known so far is provided by the odds algorithm (Bruss 2000). It implies that the optimal win probability is always at least $1/e$ (where *e* is the base of the natural logarithm), and that the latter holds even in a much greater generality (2003). The optimal stopping rule prescribes always rejecting the first $\sim n/e$ applicants that are interviewed and then stopping at the first applicant who is better than every applicant interviewed so far (or continuing to the last applicant if this never occurs). Sometimes this strategy is called the $1/e$ stopping rule, because the probability of stopping at the best applicant with this strategy is about $1/e$ already for moderate values of $n$. One reason why the secretary problem has received so much attention is that the optimal policy for the problem (the stopping rule) is simple and selects the single best candidate about 37% of the time, irrespective of whether there are 100 or 100 million applicants.

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- "Secretary Problem" | 2024-04-12 | 31 Upvotes 7 Comments
- "The Secretary Problem" | 2022-08-18 | 202 Upvotes 120 Comments
- "Secretary Problem" | 2017-10-27 | 145 Upvotes 62 Comments

# π Pi Day

**Pi Day** is an annual celebration of the mathematical constant Ο (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14 (3/14 in the *month/day* format) since 3, 1, and 4 are the first three significant digits of Ο. In 2009, the United States House of Representatives supported the designation of Pi Day. UNESCO's 40th General Conference decided Pi Day as the International Day of Mathematics in November 2019.

**Pi Approximation Day** is observed on July 22 (22/7 in the *day/month* format), since the fraction β^{22}β_{7} is a common approximation of Ο, which is accurate to two decimal places and dates from Archimedes.

**Two Pi Day**, also known as **Tau Day** for the mathematical constant Tau, is observed on June 28 (6/28 in the *month/day* format).

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- "March 14 (3/14): Pi Day" | 2024-03-14 | 143 Upvotes 94 Comments
- "Pi Day" | 2018-03-14 | 10 Upvotes 4 Comments
- "Pi Day" | 2015-03-14 | 67 Upvotes 30 Comments
- "Pi Day" | 2013-03-14 | 118 Upvotes 49 Comments
- "Happy Pi Day" | 2009-03-14 | 30 Upvotes 11 Comments

# π Monty Hall Problem

The **Monty Hall problem** is a brain teaser, in the form of a probability puzzle, loosely based on the American television game show *Let's Make a Deal* and named after its original host, Monty Hall. The problem was originally posed (and solved) in a letter by Steve Selvin to the *American Statistician* in 1975 (Selvin 1975a), (Selvin 1975b). It became famous as a question from a reader's letter quoted in Marilyn vos Savant's "Ask Marilyn" column in *Parade* magazine in 1990 (vos Savant 1990a):

Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

Vos Savant's response was that the contestant should switch to the other door (vos Savant 1990a). Under the standard assumptions, contestants who switch have a 2/3 chance of winning the car, while contestants who stick to their initial choice have only a 1/3 chance.

The given probabilities depend on specific assumptions about how the host and contestant choose their doors. A key insight is that, under these standard conditions, there is more information about doors 2 and 3 than was available at the beginning of the game when door 1 was chosen by the player: the host's deliberate action adds value to the door he did not choose to eliminate, but not to the one chosen by the contestant originally. Another insight is that switching doors is a different action than choosing between the two remaining doors at random, as the first action uses the previous information and the latter does not. Other possible behaviors than the one described can reveal different additional information, or none at all, and yield different probabilities. Yet another insight is that your chance of winning by switching doors is directly related to your chance of choosing the winning door in the first place: if you choose the correct door on your first try, then switching loses; if you choose a wrong door on your first try, then switching wins; your chance of choosing the correct door on your first try is 1/3, and the chance of choosing a wrong door is 2/3.

Many readers of vos Savant's column refused to believe switching is beneficial despite her explanation. After the problem appeared in *Parade*, approximately 10,000 readers, including nearly 1,000 with PhDs, wrote to the magazine, most of them claiming vos Savant was wrong (Tierney 1991). Even when given explanations, simulations, and formal mathematical proofs, many people still do not accept that switching is the best strategy (vos Savant 1991a). Paul ErdΕs, one of the most prolific mathematicians in history, remained unconvinced until he was shown a computer simulation demonstrating vos Savantβs predicted result (Vazsonyi 1999).

The problem is a paradox of the *veridical* type, because the correct choice (that one should switch doors) is so counterintuitive it can seem absurd, but is nevertheless demonstrably true. The Monty Hall problem is mathematically closely related to the earlier Three Prisoners problem and to the much older Bertrand's box paradox.

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- "Monty Hall Problem" | 2022-06-09 | 24 Upvotes 116 Comments
- "Monty Hall Problem" | 2019-10-24 | 122 Upvotes 252 Comments
- "Monty Hall problem" | 2010-02-22 | 14 Upvotes 27 Comments