Saturday, December 1, 2012

Triangular Day: A Second Figurative Family

Happy December, and happy triangular day! It is the first of December, and one is the first triangular number. One is also a square number, which is a good reason to bring up this topic today.

The triangular numbers are a type of "figurative family," which are sequences of numbers whose elements are numbers that if you draw that many dots, they can form an equilateral polygon (a shape with no curves or openings whose sides and angles are all equal in measure), which is the most common type of figure. For instance, the triangular numbers are a sequence of numbers whose elements form a equilateral or equiangular triangle. This is the first of the figurative families (you cannot draw a one or two sided polygon).

Today, we will turn to the next figurative family, which would be the family whose elements form a equilateral quadrilateral.

Think for just a moment about that. Do you ever hear kids in math class finding the area or equilateral quadrilaterals, or equilateral quadrangles, or equiangular quadrilaterals or quadrangles? I would be surprised if they do, because there is a very simple name for that shape. I defined an equilateral polygon earlier as a shape with no curves or openings whose sides and angles are all equal in measure, and a quadrilateral is simply a four-sided polygon. So, a equilateral quadrilateral is basically:

A four-sided shape with no curves or openings whose sides and angles are all equal in measure.

Do you recognize this definition from math class? It is the exact definition of a square. So, a equilateral quadrilateral can simply be called a square. Because of that, instead of calling the next figurative family the equilateral quadrangular numbers or something, we can call them the square numbers.

Wait a second! The name "square number" is already taken by the numbers whose square root is a integer. The square numbers are 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, and so on. We can't have two sets of square numbers.

But what are the elements of this new figurative family? You can form a 1x1 square with 1 dot, a 2x2 square with 4 dots, a 3x3 square with 9 dots, and so on. We are forming square numbers!

Believe it or not, the square numbers that we normally think of are the next figurative family. And they all form a square, whose side length is the square root of that number.

Before I go into a pattern with square numbers, I want to mention one quick thing that will be important when we study square numbers further. The explicit formula for triangular numbers was essential again and again. So, I want you to think for a moment about what the explicit formula for square numbers would be.

Don't think too hard! It is simply n^2. That is the definition of square numbers, so we can use it as its formula. We may have to complicate it in a later post with something like 2n(n+0)/2, but for now, it is perfect to leave it as n^2.

Okay, let's look at a pattern now. Take two random numbers, like 2 and 3. Find the sum of the square of each of those numbers.

2^2 + 3^2 =
4 + 9 =

Now, double that.

13 • 2 = 26

Can you find a sum of two square numbers that equals 26? This is a pretty easy one, namely the sum of 25 and 1, or 5^2 and 1^2.

Let's try a harder one, the sum of the squares of 4 and 6.

4^2 + 6^2 =
16 + 36 =

Double 52 and you will get 104, which is the sum of 4 and 10, or 2^2 and 10^2.

Let's try a big one. The sum of the squares of 27 and 41.

27^2 + 41^2 =
729 + 1681 =
2410 =

Double 2410 and you will get 4820, which is the sum of 4624 and 196, or 68^2 and 14^2.

I found it amazing that you can square two numbers, double their sum, and find a sum of two new square numbers. I was almost skeptical about a proof for it, but it actually isn't that bad.

In each of the triangular number proofs (except for the induction one), we found a correlation between the number(s) we started out with and number(s) we finished with. This was essential to turn it into a format that can be worked with.

In these three examples, the original numbers that were being squared did have a correlation with the square roots at the end. Those square roots were actually the sum and the difference of the two starting numbers. So, we can now label everything.

Let a = the bigger original number
Let b = the smaller original number

We can then conclude that the square roots are a+b and a-b.

Let's write this as an equation. We are doubling the sum of the squares of a and b to get the sum of the squares of a+b and a-b.

2(a^2 + b^2) = (a + b)^2 + (a - b)^2

Similar to the triangular number proofs, we will multiply each side out and see what we end up with.

2(a^2 + b^2) = (a + b)^2 + (a - b)^2
2a^2 + 2b^2 = (a + b)(a + b) + (a - b)(a - b)
2a^2 + 2b^2 = a^2 + 2ab + b^2 + a^2 - 2ab + b^2
2a^2 + 2b^2 = a^2 + a^2 + 2ab - 2ab + b^2 + b^2
2a^2 + 2b^2 = 2a^2 + 0ab + 2b^2
2a^2 + 2b^2 = 2a^2 + 2b^2

And we ended up with the two sides being equal! What I find kind of cool is that you can now easily create a brain teaser with this, asking something like taking the number 123 and 456 and asking people what two numbers can be squared and then added together to get double the sum of the squares of those two numbers. With this proof, you can easily determine that the answer is 579 and 333. And if you remember from last December, 333^2 is a pretty easy one to figure out.

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