The polymath blog

July 19, 2011

Minipolymath3 project: 2011 IMO

Filed under: research — Terence Tao @ 8:00 pm

This post marks the official opening of the mini-polymath3 project to solve a problem from the 2011 IMO.  I have decided to use Q2, in part to see how the polymath format would cope with a more geometrically themed problem.

Problem 2.  Let S be a finite set of at least two points in the plane. Assume that no three points of S are collinear. A windmill is a process that starts with a line \ell going through a single point P \in S. The line rotates clockwise about the pivot P until the first time that the line meets some other point Q belonging to S. This point Q takes over as the new pivot, and the line now rotates clockwise about Q, until it next meets a point of S. This process continues indefinitely.
Show that we can choose a point P in S and a line \ell going through P such that the resulting windmill uses each point of S as a pivot infinitely many times.
The comments to this post shall serve as the research thread for the project, in which participants are encouraged to post their thoughts and comments on the problem, even if (or especially if) they are only partially conclusive.  Participants are also encouraged to visit the discussion thread for this project, and also to visit and work on the wiki page to organise the progress made so far.
This project will follow the general polymath rules.  In particular:
  1. All are welcome. Everyone (regardless of mathematical level) is welcome to participate.  Even very simple or “obvious” comments, or comments that help clarify a previous observation, can be valuable.
  2. No spoilers! It is inevitable that solutions to this problem will become available on the internet very shortly.  If you are intending to participate in this project, I ask that you refrain from looking up these solutions, and that those of you have already seen a solution to the problem refrain from giving out spoilers, until at least one solution has already been obtained organically from the project.
  3. Not a race. This is not intended to be a race between individuals; the purpose of the polymath experiment is to solve problems collaboratively rather than individually, by proceeding via a multitude of small observations and steps shared between all participants.   If you find yourself tempted to work out the entire problem by yourself in isolation, I would request that you refrain from revealing any solutions you obtain in this manner until after the main project has reached at least one solution on its own.
  4. Update the wiki. Once the number of comments here becomes too large to easily digest at once, participants are encouraged to work on the wiki page to summarise the progress made so far, to help others get up to speed on the status of the project.
  5. Metacomments go in the discussion thread. Any non-research discussions regarding the project (e.g. organisational suggestions, or commentary on the current progress) should be made at the discussion thread.
  6. Be polite and constructive, and make your comments as easy to understand as possible. Bear in mind that the mathematical level and background of participants may vary widely.

Have fun!

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