Freeman Dyson and 1/19

I just read this article about Freeman Dyson and a math puzzle that asks you to find a number that is doubled when you tear off the rightmost digit and stick it on the left. For example, tearing the 2 off 12 and sticking it in front gets you 21, which isn’t 2×12, so 12 isn’t right. Moving the 1 in 7654321 gets you 1765432 which also dosn’t double it, so that’s not the number either.

Anyway, it turns out the number we’re looking for is 18 digits long. It’s 052,631,578,947,368,421 which doubles to 105,263,157,894,736,842. (You’re allowed to stick a zero in front.)

Well, my son loves this kind of base-10 number tomfoolery, so I asked him if he could figure it out. And he reeled off the answer without pause. All 18 digits.

“Uhh, how’d ya know?” I asked.

He said it’s because 1/19 is 0.052631578947368421… (repeated forever), and 2/19 is 0.105263157894736842… (just move the 1). And of course 2/19 is twice 1/19. So if you know your N/19 repeating decimals, this is apparently easy peasy. And all the N/19’s are buried in that infinite sequence. You just have to start at different places. 3/19 is 0.157894736842105263…, 4/19 is 0.210526315789473684…, 5/19 is 0.263157894736842105…, etc.

So the next time someone asks “what’s a number that’s quadrupled when you tear the last two digits off the right and stick them on the left” you can say “doy, it’s 052,631,578,947,368,421 of course” and then roll your eyes. Because you’ve seen 1/19 and 4/19 written out as decimals.

Anyway, my son also told me there’s something similar for 1/29, except you triple the number by tearing off the rightmost digit and putting it on the left. I think it’s 28 digits long.

And also for 1/39, except you quadruple (x4) the number. And with 1/49 you x5 the number, and 1/59 gets you x6. Even 1/99 (0.0101010101…) works (x10 gives you 0.1010101010…).

As for 1/109, I don’t know, I’ll bet there’s some kind of x11 trick there. My son’s in bed now, but I’ll ask him tomorrow when he gets up.


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