Gulp. Are there (were there?) special math problems given only to Jews?

Yes, unfortunately there is (or was?) such a thing.

The special problems were, of course, more difficult than the regular math problems. Much more difficult.

I learned about this from Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog, where she explains “how during entrance tests for Moscow State University, the examiners were giving Jewish and other undesirable students special (i.e. more difficult) questions during the oral exams.” Read the post at the link to see entrance exam rules, along with two sample problems, one “trivial” and one “very difficult.”

  • The so-called “trivial” problem is one that I’m sure a small number of my students from Weston could solve—but I stress that it’s truly a small number:

Solve for x:

  • Then there’s the “very difficult”—i.e. hopeless—problem:

Three spheres are tangent to plane P and to each other. Two of the spheres are the same size. The apex of a circular cone is on P, and the cone’s axis is perpendicular to the plane P. All three spheres are outside the cone and tangent to it. Find the cosine of the angle between the cone’s generatrix and the plane P, if one of the angles of the triangle formed by the intersection points of the spheres and the cone is 150 degrees.

I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out any possible connection here between the current presidents of Russia and Ukraine.

Categories: Life, Math, Teaching & Learning