Mathematical Puzzle Sessions


Join members of the Cornell Undergraduate Math Club for a fun evening of puzzle solving.  All sorts of recreational puzzles will be provided, none of which require any specific mathematical knowledge.  However, all of them will require logic and thinking outside of the box, so be ready to put on your creative thinking caps!  Don’t worry about getting stumped, that’s half the fun.  Plus, you’ll have plenty of peers and knowledgeable college students to brainstorm and discuss ideas with.   

While working out solutions to the puzzles you’ll likely stumble upon some interesting, more general mathematical concepts.  If time allows, these concepts will be highlighted at the end of the night.  Of course you are always welcome to approach the math club members to inquire more about these and any other mathematical concepts.

Click here to sign up if you plan on attending.


The Ithaca Journal featured an article covering the Februrary meeting and gives a good sense of what we hope to accomplish with the puzzle sessions.  Article Link

If you would like to advertise this event in your classroom, please click the link to view and print the event flier: link

The Importance of Problem Solving

The challenges one may face both in and outside of school and the workplace are unpredictable.  It is therefore crucial that one be able to think strategically and creatively to come up with solutions.  Solving fun puzzles and brain teasers is an excellent way to strengthen problem solving and critical thinking abilities.  Unlike memorizing formulas and tricks specific to a certain class of problems, these skills are transferable to most any occupation or real-life situation.  Additionally, the puzzle sessions provide a venue for students to develop invaluable collaboration and communication skills. 


The  last puzzle session of the school year has passed. 


Featured Puzzles from Previous Session

March- Puzzles and handout

April- Puzzles and handout

May- Puzzles and handout

Additional Example Puzzles

1. Lady or Tiger?
The following is a classic problem presented in Raymond Smullyan’s The Lady or the Tiger?.

A certain king likes to entertain himself by making his prisoners play a game to decide their fate.  The prisoners are presented with two doors.  In a room behind each door is either a lady whom the prisoner may marry, or a tiger whom may eat the prisoner.  A clue is written on each door and the prisoner decides which door to open based on these clues.  The clues provided to three prisoners brought before the king are below.  Try to figure out which door each prisoner should open.

Prisoner 1 is told that exactly one of the following clues is true and exactly one is false.
 Door 1: There is a lady behind this door and a tiger behind the other.

 Door 2: There is a lady behind one of the doors and a tiger behind the other.

Prisoner 2 is told that either both clues are true or both are false.

 Door 1: Either there is a tiger behind this door or a lady behind the second door.

 Door 2: There is a lady behind this door.

Prisoner 3 receives directions which are a bit tricker since the first two escaped.  This prisoner is told that if a lady is behind door 1 then the clue on door 1 is true, but if a tiger is behind door 1 then the clue on that door is false.  Door 2 follows the opposite rule: if a lady is behind door 2 the clue on door 2 is false, but if a tiger is behind door 2 the clue on that door is true.

 Door 1: A lady is waiting behind at least one of the doors.

 Door 2: A lady is waiting behind the other door.

2. Pirates' Gold

A group of 5 pirates have a treasure chest containing 100 gold coins which need to be split among them.  The oldest pirate is the captain; he will propose a split and each of the 5 pirates will vote either for or against the split.  If 50% or more of the pirates vote for the split, the split is made.  Otherwise, the captain is tossed overboard and the next senior pirate becomes captain.  The process is repeated until the pirates agree to a split.  The pirates prefer no gold to death and more gold to less gold.  They also don't like each other, so all things being equal, they don't mind a solution where some of the other pirates are tossed overboard.  If all the pirates are intelligent, how will the gold be split?