Can you solve it? Meet the puzzle king

If you are looking for an activity to take your mind off things, here’s a puzzle with a delightful twist.

It was devised by Peter Winkler. When it comes to maths puzzles, Winkler is the connoisseur’s connoisseur.

Team A and Team B are perennial football rivals. Every year they meet for a series of games. The first team to win four games gets to take home the Golden Teapot and keep it for a year.

The teams are evenly matched except for a small home advantage. When playing at home, each team has a 51 per cent chance of winning. (And a 49 per cent chance of losing. No ties are allowed.)

Every year, the first three games are played at the home of Team A, and the rest at the home of Team B.

Which team is more likely to win the Golden Teapot?

A math(s) professor at Dartmouth College in the US, Winkler currently occupies the chair for the public dissemination of mathematics at New York’s Museum of Math.

He’s one of my all time puzzle heroes. All of his puzzles contain something special, and today’s is no exception.

“I like this puzzle because there are two different approaches to solving it, which appear to lead to opposite conclusions,” he says.

He adds: “Puzzles can entertain us, challenge us, and sometimes embarrass us. But the best puzzles do more: they open our eyes to an idea we hadn’t seen before. And they do this in a wonderful way, by making us come up with the idea ourselves.”

I hope you solve the problem, and discover the apparent paradox for yourselves. It’s very neat!

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I’ll be back at 5pm with the solution, and a discussion. If you are reading this on a phone, and you want a notification when the solution is posted, click the ‘Follow Alex Bellos’ button above.

Thanks to Peter Winkler for today’s problem. He’s written two books of puzzles and they are both brilliant: Mathematical Puzzles: A Connoisseur’s Collection and Mathematical Mind-Benders.

I set a puzzle here every two weeks on a Monday. I’m always on the look-out for great puzzles. If you would like to suggest one, email me.


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