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Can You Solve the Counterfeit Coin Puzzle?

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Mathematicians have long plagued humankind with a style of puzzle in which you must weigh a series of items on a balance scale to find one oddball item that weighs more or less than the others. They're known collectively as balance puzzles, and they can be maddening...until someone comes along and trots out the answer.

Within the world of balance puzzles, the 12-coin problem is well-known (there's also a nine-coin variant, and a horrendous 39-coin variant). There is in fact a generalized solution for such puzzles [PDF], though it involves serious math knowledge.

In the video below, we are presented with a version of the 12-coin problem in which we must determine a single counterfeit coin in a dozen candidates. The problem is, we're only allowed the use of a marker (to make notes on the coins) and three uses of a balance scale. Here are the detailed conditions:

1) All 12 coins look identical.

2) Eleven of the coins weigh exactly the same. The twelfth is very slightly heavier or lighter.

3) The only available weighing method is the balance scale. It can only tell you if both sides are equal, or if one side is heavier than the other.

4) You may use the scale no more than three times.

5) You may write things on the coins with your marker, and this will not change their weight.

6) There's no bribing the guards or any other trick.

So how do we solve this specific case? Watch the video to find out.

For a bit more on this puzzle, check out this TED-Ed page.

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Health
The Math Behind the Classic Eye Chart Is Surprisingly Complex
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Next time you're forced to take a vision exam at the DMV, take a moment to appreciate the complex math that went into the eye chart. What seems like a fairly straightforward way to assess eyesight is actually the result of specific calculations that can tell you a lot about how the human eye works.

As The Verge explains in the video below, eye charts measure one aspect of healthy vision: visual acuity. This is our ability to make out fine details in our surroundings—kind of like the resolution of a computer screen, but instead of pixels, it's measured in degrees. It's easy for our eyes to tell the difference between two points of light coming from different directions, but if those points start to move closer together they will eventually blur into one. The angle created just as two lines of light become too close for our eyes to distinguish them is called the resolution limit. In healthy adults, it measures one-sixtieth of a degree, or one arcminute wide.

When a doctor asks you to read an eye chart, the resolution limit is what they're looking for. The letters in the middle of an eye chart are all designed to be exactly one arcminute thick. If your vision is sharp, you should be able tell the difference between the white spaces and the black lines of the text from 20 feet away. 

A perfect 20/20 score on an eye chart test doesn't mean you have perfect vision: Visual acuity, along with color, contrast, and depth perception, are all important parts of healthy eyesight. And a higher resolution limit isn't always a sign of a permanent problem: For people who spend their days staring at a screen, it may be caused by the eye fatigue brought on by Computer Vision Syndrome. If this is a problem for you, here are some ways to tweak your behavior.

[h/t The Verge]

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fun
Could You Pass the Mensa Intelligence Test?
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The biggest perk of being in Mensa just might be the bragging rights. Membership is reserved for society’s most elite intellectuals, and the only path to induction is to score in the 98th percentile or higher on their notorious IQ test. Think you have the smarts to join the top .0001 percent of thinkers? Before you apply for the real thing, flex your brain by answering a few sample questions from the test.

The practice questions shared on Popular Science cover the skills Mensa looks for in its members: verbal, spatial, and mathematical reasoning. To ace the test, you’ll need to be just as capable of recognizing obscure vocabulary as you are of doing complex math in your head.

The real Mensa IQ test is really two tests: a timed test with 50 questions and one with seven sections. (Scoring in the 98th percentile on either test qualifies you to join.) Answering all four of the questions posted to PopSci correctly doesn’t necessarily mean you’re intelligent enough for Mensa, but it should give you a confidence boost if you’re thinking about applying. If you do miss a question or two, maybe hold off on taking the official test until you’ve had more time to prepare: Scoring below the 98th percentile bars you from joining the exclusive club for life. You can take the practice test now by heading over to PopSci.

[h/t Popular Science]

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