Mathematical Questions for Aaron Santos

At our next meet-up, Aaron Santos will be talking about how mathematics can be a tool for applying skepticism.

Over at his blog, A Diary of Numbers, Santos states he “likes solving geeky Fermi problems.”  For example, Santos has tackled questions such as:

  1. How much gas do you waste by turning on the headlights of your car?
  2. How sensitive would a shark’s nose have to be in order to detect a drop of blood from one mile away?
  3. How many people spinning anti-clockwise would it take to counteract the Earth’s spin, assuming that the premise is sound.
  4. Assorted Death Statistics

So what other good hypothetical questions could Santos try and solve?  Here’s a few that came to mind:

  1. How much hair throughout the entire world is grown in one day?  I wonder if it would cover my driveway?  Or the Eastern Michigan University Water Tower?  Or the University of Michigan Football Stadium?
  2. According to wikipedia, it took over three years, two months, fourteen days and sixteen hours, for Forest Gump to run coast to coast across the country several times.  What was his average speed?
  3. If the sun disappeared, how quickly would the temperature drop on Earth?  And how powerful of an artificial heat source would you have to have in order to compensate for the decreased temperature?

Are there any others?  Post them in the comments section.


One thought on “Mathematical Questions for Aaron Santos

  1. I received the following questions via e-mail:

    “The first two are bona fide questions; the third is a “trick” question, and the last two are puzzles more than problems. I added these last three just because they’re sort of fun, as well as illuminating. Feel free to disregard all, if you like.

    1. How far can a wild goose fly?
    [This is a rather well-known estimation problem, one given by John Wheeler (a well-known physicist, and incidentally coiner of the term “black hole”) as homework in his freshman physics class. As such, Aaron Santos may have covered it in his book; if so, don’t use it.]

    2. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck (if a woodchuck could chuck wood)?
    [Corny, I admit, but one should be able to estimate it, especially if one remembers a song from the ’60’s.]

    3. How long is the coast of Connecticut?

    4. You and a friend are lost in the desert when you come upon a plastic bottle filled with water. Your friend has a cold and so offers to let you drink first, as long as you drink no more than half. Unfortunately the sun and heat have warped the plastic bottle into an irregular shape. How would you estimate when you’ve drunk your half? (You have no measuring devices with you.)

    5. A bumblebee is sitting on the headlight of a train traveling at 50 mph down a railroad track. Because of a signal malfunction there is another train on the same track traveling in the opposite direction, also at 50 mph. The bumblebee, which can fly at 80 mph, takes off from the first train when the two trains are 100 miles apart and flies down the track until it reaches the oncoming second train, then immediately reverses course and flies back to the first train, reverses course again, and so on in ever-shortening segments. Estimate how many total miles the bumblebee flies before the trains collide.”

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