Can you solve it? Do you have the mind of an engineer? | Math

If you’ve ever walked along the Macclesfield Canal you may have come across a ‘snake bridge’, like the one above, in which one side of the towpath spirals backwards.

The question is: why did they build bridges like this?

Today’s challenges are reverse engineered picture puzzles. You are presented with illustrations of five curious structures, and your task is to figure out why they were built the way they were. First stop, Cheshire.

1. Curly crossing

Illustration: Kvantik

The Macclesfield Canal opened in 1831 and features several “snake bridges”, or “travelling bridges”, where the towpath passes from side to side in a loop, like the one pictured above (and pictured at top of story. ) Why were they built like this? Think about why the channels were originally built and look for clues in the image.

2. Curly Trains

train track puzzle
Illustration: Kvantik

In some places around the world, train tracks make a giant loop and then go under themselves. Why?

3. Confusing Polynesians

catamaran puzzle
Illustration: Kvantik

Why did Polynesian boat builders make canoes that looked like the one above?

4. Tricky trams

tram
Illustration: Kvantik

Why are the aerial cables of the tram positioned in a zigzag rather than a straight line?

5. Puzzled Pipes

Pipes
Illustration: Kvantik

In Russian cities, most central heating is provided by pipes supplied with hot water or steam from distant heating installations. Why do these pipes sometimes have unusual bends, like the one above?

I’ll be back at 5pm in the UK. Please NO SPOILERS. Instead, please discuss your favorite examples of engineering ingenuity.

UPDATE: You can read the responses here.

Today’s puzzles were suggested by Nikolai Andreev, a Russian mathematician who last month won the Leelavati Prize, a prize awarded by the International Mathematical Union every four years to recognize “outstanding contributions to raising awareness from the public to mathematics as an intellectual discipline and the crucial role it plays in various human endeavours.

Andreev was particularly praised for the free resource Mathematical studies which contains many wonderful videos explaining mathematical and mechanical phenomena. He also works closely with Kvantika magazine on mathematics and physics for primary school children, from which all the illustrations above are taken.

Thanks to Nikolai Andreev and Kvantik for permission to use the illustrations.

I install a puzzle here every two weeks on a Monday. I’m always on the lookout for great puzzles. If you want to suggest one, write to me.

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I am the author of several math and puzzle books, and also co-author with Ben Lyttleton of the Football School series of children’s books. The latest addition to the Football School series is The greatest quiz book of all timeout now!

I give school lectures on math and puzzles (online and in person). If your school is interested, please contact us.

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