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Father-son mathematicians fold math into fonts

MIT’s Erik and Martin Demaine create puzzle typefaces to test new ideas

9:00am, August 10, 2014
Martin Demaine and Erik Demaine

WORKING TOGETHER  Martin Demaine (left) and his son Erik have drawn on mathematics and computational geometry to design fonts that incorporate puzzles. 

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A mathematician once posed a deceptively simple question. Can a single 2-D conveyor belt be stretched around a set of wheels such that the belt is taut and touches every wheel without crossing itself?

MIT computer scientist Erik Demaine pondered the problem. For just a few wheels, the solution is easy: Arrange four into a square, wrap the belt around the outside, and the problem is solved — one version of it, at least.

“The question is whether it’s always possible to solve no matter how you draw the wheels,” Demaine says. A complete solution would lay out a set of rules that applies to every possible wheel arrangement and number. “But so far every algorithm we’ve come up with has been foiled.”

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