In my high school library, there was a copy of the classic book “Men of Mathematics” by E.T. Bell. Each chapter is a short biography of a notable mathematician of the past (and yes, they are all men). In the chapter on Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855), I first encountered the famous story of how, as a 10 year old student, Gauss baffled his teacher by instantly solving a problem that the teacher assumed would occupy his student’s an hour or more.
In this post, I will describe Gauss’ insight, then show how a related problem can be solved by using some informed guesswork.Read the rest of this entry »