Secret Santa 4: The Surprise

Surprise!

After a long hiatus (7 months!) I am finally back to writing. This week I revisited an old problem that Sam Coskey told me a couple of years ago. Some of you will remember this “Secret Santa problem”, which I wrote about before. The problem is:

Sam’s Problem. Is it possible for two people to each choose a natural number so that both numbers are exactly 1 apart and neither person knows who has the larger of the two numbers?

Continue reading Secret Santa 4: The Surprise

Secret Santa 3: The Paradox.

Last time I discussed the solution to Sam’s problem:

Sam’s Problem. Is it possible for two people to each choose a natural number so that both numbers are exactly 1 apart and neither person knows who has the larger of the two numbers?

I established, by induction, that it is impossible to do this. Great. We write “QED” and move on. There is a very convincing counter-argument that was brought to my attention by Jacob Tsimerman and a student at the Winter Canadian IMO camp. They proposed a method that seems like it should solve Sam’s problem in the positive. What exactly is going on in their method? Where is the mistake?

Jacob’s method. Player 1 chooses a large enough number N (say greater than 100); this is now their number. Player 1 writes down the numbers N+1 and N-1 on different pieces of paper and presents them face-down to Player 2. Player 2 chooses one of them and burns the other one without looking at it. The number Player 2 sees is their number.

Continue reading Secret Santa 3: The Paradox.