A Ladder Puzzle
Date: 10/20/2000 at 14:40:10 From: Ralf Dueck Subject: Geometry A cube is placed flat against a wall. A ladder of length 10m is leaning against the wall, just touching an edge of the cube. At what height does the end of the ladder touch the wall? I tried with Pythagoras, but I didn't find the answer. I know that there must be two answers.
Date: 10/21/2000 at 05:17:36 From: Doctor Floor Subject: Re: Geometry Dear Ralph, Thanks for your question. It seems that you forgot to give dimensions (measures) of the cube. Let me take 3m for the edge lengths of the cube. This is a very curious and nice problem. I saw it for the first time in a booklet with a collection of problems from a Dutch newspaper (NRC Handelsblad) 15-20 years ago. I can't find it now, but I know that I didn't really appreciate the solution given there, because it didn't benefit from the symmetry of the problem. The symmetry here is that if the ladder fits to a certain height, then it also fits when it is at that distance on the floor. Let me sketch the solution: The cube divides the ladder in two parts, which I will take to have lengths 5+x and 5-x, and I will try to solve for x (computation of the height you are looking for is straightforward then.) I chose this use of x because of the symmetry. If x is a solution, then of course -x is also a solution. We have the following picture: | |\ | \ | \5+x t| \ | \ |__3__\ | |\ 3| 3| \5-x |_____|__\___ 3 u We know with help of the Pythagorean theorem: u^2 = (5-x)^2 - 9 = x^2 - 10x + 16 t^2 = (5+x)^2 - 9 = x^2 + 10x + 16 The slopes of the two parts of the ladder must of course be equal, so the following must be true: t/3 = 3/u tu = 9 t^2*u^2 = 81 (x^2-10x+16)*(x^2+10x+16) = 81 x^4 - 68x^2 + 175 = 0 This equation is quadratic in x^2, and you can find four solutions for x. But not all solutions are valid. Of course 5-x as well as 5+x must be greater than 3, so you must have -2 < x < 2. In fact there are two solutions left, as you already said. If you need more help, just write back. Best regards, - Doctor Floor, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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