Monthly Archives: August 2013

Finding area

I follow the Five Triangles ‘blog for cool math problems.  A recent one proved particularly nice.

At first I wasn’t sure this situation was invariant.  I didn’t see how fixing three triangle areas guaranteed a fixed quadrilateral area.  Not seeing an immediate general solution approach, I reasoned that if there was a solution, it worked for multiple overall configurations.  If it worked in general, then it must also work for any particular case I chose, so I made the cevians perpendicular.  That made each of the given area triangles right.  I modeled that by constructing the overall triangle with the cevian intersection at the origin and the legs of the given area triangles along the coordinate axes.

There are many ways to do this, but I reasoned that if there was a single answer, then any one of them would work.  A right triangle with legs of length 8 and 5 would have area 20.  Constructing that triangle in GeoGebra fixed the lengths of the legs of the other two triangles and the hypotenuses of the area 8 & 15 triangles intersected at a Quadrant II point.  Here’s my construction.


I  overlayed a polygon to create the quadrilateral and measured its area directly.  For fun, I also wrote algebraic equations for lines CB and DA, found the coordinates of point F by solving the 2×2 linear system, used that to derive the area of \Delta BDF, and determined the area of the quadrilateral from that.

While I realized that this approach was just a single case of the given problem, it absolutely convinced me that the solution was unique.  Once the area 20 triangle was defined (whether or not the triangle was right), a side and the area of each of the other two given triangles is known.  That meant the heights of the triangles would be determined and thereby the location of the quadrilateral’s fourth vertex.  So, I knew without a doubt that the unknown area was 27 cm^2, but I didn’t know a general solution.

Chronology of the General Solution

While I worked more on the problem, I also pitched it to my Twitter network and asked a colleague at my school, Tatiana Yudovina, if she was interested in the problem.  Next is Tatiana’s initial solution, followed by my generic Geogebra construction, and a much shorter solution Tatiana created.  My conclusion takes the problem to a more generic state and raises some potential extensions.

Tatiana’s First Solution:

Leveraging the fact that triangles with the same base have equivalent height and area ratios, she created a system of equations that solved to eventually determine the quadrilateral’s area.


My Generic GeoGebra Solution:

While Tatiana was working on her algebraic answer, I was creating  a dynamic version on GeoGebra.  I built the area 20 triangle by first drawing a segment AB and measuring its length, a.  That meant the height of this triangle, h, was given by \frac{1}{2} a \cdot h =20\longrightarrow h=\frac{40}{a}. Then I constructed a perpendicular line to AB and used the “Segment with Fixed Length” tool and defined the length using the generic length of h as defined above to create segment AC.  This worked because GeoGebra defined the length of AB as a variable as shown below.


I used the “Compass” tool to create a circle with radius AC through the perpendicular line created earlier. Point D is the intersection of the circle and the normal line.  I then constructed a perpendicular to AD through D and placed a random point E on this new line.  Point E was the requisite height above AB to guarantee that \Delta ABE always had area 20 which I confirmed by drawing the triangle and computing its area.


I hid AC, the circle, and both normals.  Segment AB was a completely independent object, and point E was free to move along the second “height” normal.  I measured AE and repeated the previous construction to create the area 15 triangle. Because BE was part of a cevian, I drew line BE to determine point J on the normal defining the final vertex of the area 15 triangle.


Again, I hid all of my constructions and repeated the process to create the final vertex, K, of the area 8 triangle off side BE of the area 20 triangle.  Extending segments AJ and BK defined point L, the final vertex of the quadrilateral.  Laying a quadrilateral in the figure let me compute its area.  Moving points A, B, and E around the screen and seeing the areas remain fixed is pretty compelling evidence that the quadrilateral’s area is always 27, and Tatiana’s proof showed why.  You can play with my final construction on GeoGebra Tube here.


Then Tatiana emailed me a much shorter proof.

Tatiana’s Short Solution:

Reversing the logic of her first solution, Tatiana reasoned that equivalent-altitude triangles had equal base and area ratios.


And the sum of X and Y gave the quadrilateral’s area.


This problem was entertaining both in the solution and the multiple ways we found it.  Creating the dynamic construction gave  insights into the critical features of the problem.

Here are some potential extensions I developed for this problem.  I haven’t fully explored any of them yet, hoping some of my geometry students this year might take up the exploration challenge.  I’d love to hear if any of my readers have any further suggestions.

  1. It might be interesting to create an even more dynamic construction with the areas of the three given triangles defined by sliders.
  2. Can the quadrilateral’s area be expressed as a closed-form function of the areas of the three given triangles.
  3. What happens on the boundaries of this problem?  That is, what happens if one of the side triangles was a degenerate with area 0? What would happen to the quadrilateral? Would would be the corresponding affect on the area formula from extension 2?
  4. Extending 3 even further, if both given side triangles were degenerates with area 0, it seems that the area formula from extension 2 should collapse to the area of the final given non-zero triangle, but does it?

Thanks again, Five Triangles, for another great problem!

Integral follow-up

One HUGE reason to ‘blog is to get feedback on your ideas.  Thanks to David’s response to my last post on my attempts to integrate \int x^2\sqrt{x^2+1} dx, I got another lead on how to tackle the problem –and– a little (comforting) confirmation that the integral really was difficult.

The suggestion that integrals of odd powers of secant might cycle was all I needed.  I ignoring the hint that Wikipedia might hold a solution to find a way for myself. Here’s what I found.

To compute I=\int sec^3 \theta d\theta, let


One application of Integration by Parts, a trig identity, and a cycling integral gives


Similarly, to compute I=\int sec^5 \theta d\theta, let


Using the result of \int sec^3\theta d\theta, Integration by Parts once, a trig identity, and a cycling integral gives this solution.


From the first post, if x=tan\theta, then \int x^2\sqrt{x^2+1} dx = \int tan^2\theta sec^3\theta d\theta. A Pythagorean trig identity turns this into a linear combination of the previous two integrals.  The problem that initially stumped me has now been solved using using only circular trig and other integration techniques!


With potential domain restrictions, the initial substitution x=tan\theta with a Pythagorean trig identity gives sec\theta=\sqrt{x^2+1}.  Therefore,


one of the original solution forms, found this time completely independent of hyperbolic trig.  Thanks for the suggestion, David!

Old school integral

This isn’t going to be one of my typical posts, but I just cracked a challenging indefinite integral and wanted to share.

I made a mistake solving a calculus problem a few weeks ago and ended up at an integral that looked pretty simple.  I tried several approaches and found many dead ends before finally getting a breakthrough.  Rather than just giving a proof, I thought I’d share my thought process in hopes that some students just learning integration techniques might see some different ways to attack a problem and learn to persevere through difficult times.

In my opinion, most students taking a calculus class would never encounter this problem.  The work that follows is clear evidence why everyone doing math should have access to CAS (or tables of integrals when CAS aren’t available).

Here’s the problem:

Integrate \int \left( x^2 \cdot \sqrt{1+x^2} \right) dx.

For convenience, I’m going to ignore in this post the random constant that appears with indefinite integrals.

While there’s no single algebraic technique that will work for all integrals, sometimes there are clues to suggest productive approaches.  In this case, the square root of a binomial involving a constant and a squared variable term suggests a trig substitution.

From trig identities, I knew tan^2 \theta + 1 = sec^2 \theta, so my first attempt was to let x=tan \theta, which gives dx=sec^2 \theta d\theta.  Substituting these leads to


(tan \theta)'=sec^2 \theta, claiming two secants for the differential in a reversed chain rule, but left a single secant in the expression, so I couldn’t make the trig identities work because odd numbers of trigs don’t convert easily using Pythagorean identities.  Then I tried using (sec \theta)'=sec \theta \cdot tan \theta, leaving a single tangent after accounting for the potential differential–the same problem as before.  A straightforward trig identity wasn’t going to do the trick.

Then I recognized that the derivative of the root’s interior is 2x.  It was not the exterior x^2, but perhaps integration by parts would work.  I tried u=x \longrightarrow u'=dx and v'=x\sqrt{1+x^2} dx \longrightarrow v=\frac{1}{2} \left( 1+x^2 \right)^{3/2} \cdot \frac{2}{3}.  Rewriting the original integral gave


The remaining integral still suggested a trig substitution, so I again tried x =tan \theta to get


but the odd number of secants led me to the same dead end from trigonometric identities that stopped my original attempt.  I tried a few other variations on these themes, but nothing seemed to work.  That’s when I wondered if the integral even had a closed form solution.  Lots of simple looking integrals don’t work out nicely; perhaps this was one of them.  Plugging the integral into my Nspire CAS gave the following.


OK, now I was frustrated.  The solution wasn’t particularly pretty, but a closed form definitely existed.  The logarithm was curious, but I was heartened by the middle term I had seen with a different coefficient in my integration by parts approach.  I had other things to do, so I employed another good problem solving strategy:  I quit working on it for a while.  Sometimes you need to allow your sub-conscious to chew on an idea for a spell.  I made a note about the integral on my To Do list and walked away.

As often happens to me on more challenging problems, I woke this morning with a new idea.  I was still convinced that trig substitutions should work in some way, but my years of teaching AP Calculus and its curricular restrictions had blinded me to other possibilities.  Why not try a hyperbolic trig substitution? In many ways, hyperbolic trig is easier to manipulate than circular trig.  I knew

\frac{d}{dt}cosh(t)=sinh(t) and \frac{d}{dt}sinh(t)=cosh(t),

and the hyperbolic identity

cosh^2t - sinh^2t=1 \longrightarrow cosh^2t=1+sinh^2t.

(In case you haven’t worked with hyperbolic trig functions before, you can prove these for yourself using the definitions of hyperbolic sine and cosine:  cosh(x)=\frac{1}{2}\left( e^x + e^{-x} \right) and sinh(x)=\frac{1}{2}\left( e^x - e^{-x} \right).)

So, x=sinh(A) \longrightarrow dx=cosh(A) dA, and substitution gives


Jackpot!  I was down to an even number of (hyperbolic) trig functions, so Pythagorean identities should help me revise my latest expression into some workable form.

To accomplish this, I employed a few more hyperbolic trig identities:

  1. sinh(2A)=2sinh(A)cosh(A)
  2. cosh(2A)=cosh^2(A)+sinh^2(A)
  3. cosh^2(A) = \frac{1}{2}(cosh(2A)+1)
  4. sinh^2(A) = \frac{1}{2}(cosh(2A)-1)

(All of these can be proven using the definitions of sinh and cosh above.  I encourage you to do so if you haven’t worked much with hyperbolic trig before.  I’ve always liked the close parallels between the forms of circular and hyperbolic trig relationships and identities.)

If you want to evaluate \int x^2 \sqrt{x^2+1} dx yourself, do so before reading any further.

Using equations 3 & 4, expanding, and then equation 3 again turns the integral into something that can be integrated directly.


The integral was finally solved!  I then used equations 1 & 2 to rewrite the expression back into hyperbolic functions of A only.


The integral was solved using the substitution x=sinhA \longrightarrow A=sinh^{-1}x and (using cosh^2A-sinh^2A=1), coshA=\sqrt{x^2+1}.  Substituting back gave:


but that didn’t match what my CAS had given.  I could have walked away, but I had to know if I had made an error someplace or just had found a different expression for the same quantity.  I knew the inverse sinh could be replaced with a logarithm via a quadratic expression in e^x.



Well, that explained the presence of the logarithm in the CAS solution, but I was still worried by the cubic in my second term and the fact that my first two terms were a sum whereas the CAS’s solution’s comparable terms were a difference.  But as a former student once said, “If you take care of the math, the math will take care of you.”  These expressions had to be the same, so I needed to complete one more identity–algebraic this time.  Factoring, rewriting, and re-expanding did the trick.


What a fun problem (for me) this turned out to be.  It’s absolutely not worth the effort to do this every time when a CAS or integral table can drop the solution so much more quickly, but it’s also deeply satisfying to me to know why the form of the solution is what it is.  It’s also nice to know that I found not one, but three different forms of the solution.


Morals:  Never give up.  Trust your instincts. Never give up. Try lots of variations on your instincts. And never give up!