Magic of Squares

- Abhijit Kar Gupta
Abstract: We talk of squares, the magical reality of squares. Our attempt is to discuss the influence of ‘square’ (be it square of a number or a square geometry) in our life: our Science, our culture, our passion and pastime. People loved Geometry, Number and the interplay between them from time immemorial. We draw an outline in a squarely fashion. To begin with: A geometrical area enclosed by four equal sides with the adjacent ones perpendicular to each other, is a Square: The area of a Square is square of a side ( a × a = a 2 , a being the length of a side of the Square).

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The square geometry plays a big role in Mathematics, in Physics, in Computer simulations, in Games and Puzzles and perhaps in many other places. A square lattice (a square mesh) or a square network, where each point is directly connected to 4 neighbouring points, has been a basic framework for computer simulation studies of real physical systems, social systems etc. The square network has been a test bed for many theories: Our vocabulary is loaded with the word, ‘square’: the ‘square meal’, ‘all square’ person, ‘square cut’ (in Cricket), ‘squaring a circle’, ‘back to square one’ and many such phrases for diverse reasons. The square law is an integral part of Physics. Newton’s inverse square law of Gravitation is known to everybody and is felt in inescapable way by all. Gravitational force of attraction between any two (point) bodies is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This is so universal that Einstein joked, ‘Gravitation can not be held responsible for people falling in love’! Point sources of electric field, light, sound or radiation also obey the inverse square law. In Social science study, it has been shown that the distribution of size of the communities (duly defined) follow inverse square law.

Culturally we are associated with the geometry of square in many ways. Ethnomathematicians look for the connection of Mathematics (especially, Geometry) with social life and culture. It is believed that historically, the geometry of circle arose first in the context of motion of stars where the myth became associated with the following of the stars. The square arose from the circle through the process of dividing a group into a dual organization, where for example members of one group marry someone in the other group and also play complementary roles in ritual. If a society divides a second time, one can think of it dividing the tribal circle into four parts. There are evidences to support this. The four parts naturally define a square. Square of Numbers: Our initiation in Algebra starts with the formula: (a + b) 2 = a 2 + b 2 + 2ab . We can think of the above as a Jigsaw puzzle of 4 pieces: two squares of different sizes (of areas a 2 and b 2 ) and two equal rectangles (each of area ab ) are to be placed side by side to make a square (of area (a + b) 2 ) altogether.
←a→← b →

The square of a pure number enjoys a special status in Number theory in Mathematics. Apart from the professional mathematicians, many amateurs and mathematically oriented people love to play with numbers. Let us examine a wonderful rule to obtain a square of a pure number. If we add all the odd numbers up to a certain number, we get a square of a pure number: 1 = 12 1 + 3 = 22 1 + 3 + 5 = 32 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 42 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 = 5 2 , and so on.

The above can be supported by an ingenious geometric proof :

We start from the unit square (area = 1× 1 square unit) at the bottom left. Now at the next step we add up 3 more adjacent unit squares with it. The total 4 unit squares together make a bigger square of area, 2 × 2 = 2 2 sq. unit. If we now take into account 5 more adjacent small squares then we end up with a bigger square of an area 3 × 3 = 3 2 sq. unit. This can be repeated indefinitely and we obtain squares of all the natural numbers.
The Journey of a Theorem: We all have studied Pythagoras’ theorem in school text books which states: x 2 + y 2 = z 2 , where x , y , z are three sides of a right angled triangle. We find many sets of integer numbers which satisfy the above equation: 3 2 + 4 2 = 5 2 , 12 2 + 5 2 = 13 2 etc. The theorem came to be known from a Babylonian tablet of 1900 – 1600 BC. Pythagoras (560 – 480 BC) first constructed a proof of this, hence Pythagoras’ theorem.

Pierre de Fermat was a lawyer and an amateur mathematician of 17th century, later known to be one of the great Number theorists ever born. He published only one mathematical paper in his life, and that was an anonymous article written as an appendix to a colleague's book. Because Fermat refused to publish his work, his friends feared that it would soon be forgotten unless something was done about it. Much later after his death his son Samuel undertook the task of collecting Fermat’s letters and mathematical diaries, comments written in books, etc. with the object of publishing his father's mathematical ideas. A diary was found where a few lines were devoted to generalize Pythagoras’s theorem which is now famous to be known as Fermat’s Last theorem: xn + yn = zn has no non-zero integer solutions for x, y and z when n > 2. Fermat wrote in the margin of his diary (sometime around 1630 AD) : “I have discovered a truly remarkable proof for which this margin is too small to contain”. The ‘proof’ was never found. Nobody had a doubt that this simple formula and such a simple remark might create history! It threw an extraordinary challenge to professional and amateur mathematicians seeking a rigorous proof. There are no great mathematicians left who have not tried this problem spanning the last three centuries and more. This is unparalleled in the history of Mathematics and perhaps in entire Science research itself. A British mathematician Andrew Wiles grew up with this problem in his head like many others, dreamt of solving this one day. When he took up Mathematics as a profession, as an assistant professor at Harvard University, he virtually went into isolation for a long period of 7 years; nobody knew what Prof. Wiles was up to in utmost secrecy. The ‘proof’ was declared by him to be ready in 1993 and that is now a book of around 150 pages involving new mathematical concepts!
Perforated Square Carpet:

Let us think of a different kind of square. Imagine a square below which is divided into 9 equal parts and the central part is scooped out:

The area reduces to 8/9th of the original area and the total border (perimeter) of the square geometry increases as it creates new borders inside.

When we perform the same thing over the remaining 8 equal square segments, the resulting figure looks like the following: As we go on doing the same thing repeatedly we end up with a peculiarly perforated carpet whose remaining area goes down and down and the perimeter goes up and up at every step. The object is self similar as we blow up a certain portion, it looks like the original.

The area of an ordinary square is equal to a 2 , the power 2 comes naturally as the object is 2-dimensional. However, for the new geometry where it has perforations at all length scales, the area is a f , where f is a fractional number ( ≅ 1.46) less than 2. These kind of objects are called ‘Fractals’. Fractals are new findings, enabling us to understand many complicated tenuous structures in Nature in a new way.
Square Geometry in passion and pastime: The square geometry has been a tremendous influence in the history of Games and Puzzles. Beautiful and intellectually inspiring puzzles have been devised, which have kept persons of all ages engaged over the centuries. Millions of people solve crossword puzzles on a specially designed (with symmetric patches on it) square geometry that appear in dailies all over the world.

The 8 × 8 square evokes an unbounded passion! The game of Chess is played on this: The complexity and enormous number of possible independent moves make the game so beautiful! The counting of total squares of different sizes in the chess board results in the squares of numbers as we see.

If we ask how many squares are there of size 1× 1 , 2 × 2 , 3× 3 , 4 × 4 and so on, we get an interesting result. Counting yields the numbers: 64, 49, 36, 25 and so on respectively, which are 8 2 , 7 2 , 6 2 , 5 2 , 4 2 , 3 2 , 2 2 , 12 as the number of squares for the smallest to the largest sizes of squares. In the late 1870s a new game rocked United States which was known as ‘The fifteen Puzzle’: a square shallow box with 15 blocks numbered 1 to 15. Its popularity spread so fast and wide that it soon became a real social calamity. Soon the wave came to Europe: in France, in Germany, in England, everywhere. People tried to solve the puzzle everywhere, even on public transport. Office workers, shop salesmen became so absorbed in working this out that employers were forced to ban it during working hours. It was a mania! Some enterprising people took the advantage of arranging large scale tournaments.

1 5 9 13

2 6 10 15


4 8 12

7 11 14

If we notice the block carefully it is seen that the numbers 1-13 are arranged serially. Only the 15 and 14 numbered blocks are interchanged. One block is empty. The blocks can be moved one by one through the empty blocks. For example, the block 12 can be shifted down or the block can be moved to right and reverse. The question is whether all the blocks can be placed in serial order keeping the block 1 at the top left position as it is now. The puzzle remained unsolved for more than 10 years and a prize money of $1000 was also announced by inventor Sam Loyd. The fever was apparently at its highest in 1880. People worked tirelessly at it. There are many humorous stories e.g., the tradesmen forgot to open their shops, locomotive engineers missed stations, farmers chucked up their ploughs, navigators ran their ships against reefs, the people at high positions spent nights after nights looking for a way to solve the problem. Finally the Mathematicians put an end to the craze showing that the puzzle was insolvable. There were other variations of the puzzles as was offered by the inventor of the puzzle, some of them were of course solvable.

Magic Square:

Next look at the following 3× 3 Square:

The entries here are 9 different numbers. If we add up the numbers of each row, each column or each diagonal separately, we get the same magic sum of 15. This is a Magic Square. An ancient Chinese legend says that the turtle that crawled from the river Loh bore this special square design on its back, sometime in the 2nd millennium BC. This is known to be the first Magic Square. Such a square grid of numbers have fascinated people for centuries. People tried to attach mystical significance to them at par with gems and crystals. Feng Shui masters, call this 3× 3 magic square as lo shu, use this to arrange furniture. Magic squares are not easy to make; making a magic square bigger than 3× 3 is even more difficult. Hindu mystics carved 4 × 4 magic squares in the 12-th century erotic temples of Khajuraho which offer extra possibilities:

7 2 9

12 13 6

1 8 10 15

14 11 5 4

16 3

The magic sum here is 34. Interestingly, if the rows are interchanged among themselves or the columns for that matter, the resulting 4 × 4 squares retain the same magic property having the same magic sum of 34. There are of course, more interesting properties in it as we may note. Select any 3× 3 square in it. The 4 corners add up to the same magical sum of 34. Take any 2 × 2 square and add all the 4 numbers, the sum is still the same 34. An amazing Magic carpet can be created when we place the copies of same magic square alongside itself. Any four adjacent entries along a straight line – horizontal, vertical or diagonal – sum up to 34! The corners of any 4 × 4 sub-square sum up to 34, as do the four corners of any 3× 3 sub-square and likewise those of any 2 × 2 sub-square!

7 2 16 9 7 2 16 9

12 13 3 6 12 13 3 6

1 8 10 15 1 8 10 15

14 11 5 4 14 11 5 4

7 2 16 9 7 2 16 9

12 13 3 6 12 13 3 6

1 8 10 15 1 8 10 15

14 11 5 4 14 11 5 4

There is a wide variety of magic squares of different sizes, some are called semi-magic, some anti-magic, depending on the peculiarities involved. Benjamin Franklin, the great American Scientist and Statesman spent most of his younger days in inventing a wide variety of magic squares. A marvelous 8 × 8 magic square that he devised, known as Franklin’s square, although failed to comply with all tests of a magic square, it had other wonderful properties. Franklin was so satisfied after finding such a 16 × 16 special kind of magic square and magic carpet with that that he declared “the most magically magic square ever made by a magician”. The culture of magic squares is still on. Many people just love to play around with it for sheer joy and discover interesting patterns. It’s like a gold mine wanting to be explored! Only recently mathematicians and computer scientists have started systematic digging into the richness of that! The possible mathematical rules of making a magic square, the counting of all distinct magic squares of a particular size, the interesting mathematical properties are some of the questions being addressed by some Mathematicians. Besides, the attempt is being made to find applications of such unique squares in drug trials, in public distributing systems, in Computer science and in many other areas.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. http://math.truman/edu/~thammond/historyMagicSquares.html The Art of Computer Programming, Vol.1 (Fundamental Algorithms) by Donald E. Knuth, pub. Pearson Education -by Yakov Perelman, Mir Publishers (Moscow)

6. Mathematics can be fun