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Friday, August 03, 2007

MathTrek: Can't Knock It Down

Can't Knock It Down
The "Comeback Kid" is a wooden toy with an intriguing property: No matter which way you set it down—on its head, for example, or on its side—it turns itself upright. Two factors account for this: the object's shape, and the fact that the bottom of the toy is heavier than the top.

Give mathematicians such a toy, and they're liable to turn it into a math problem.
Mathematicians Gábor Domokos of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics and Péter Várkonyi of Princeton University wondered if they could make an improved version that wouldn't require the weight at the bottom to right itself. Could the shape of the object alone be enough to pull it upright?


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