D&D dice help solve ancient mathematical puzzle

2009129_7445_2Since the earliest days of Dungeons & Dragons, no matter how engaging the fantasy roleplaying campaign, every player has experienced moments of downtime where they sat bored and doodling on a character sheet while the Dungeon Master deals with some other player’s demands or arcane rules minutiae. More often than not, this leads to said player creating ambitious structures out of the game’s signature polyhedral dice.

Now those nerds are all grown up and practicing science instead of magic, and their obsession with a millennia-old puzzle has led them back to D&D’s tetrahedral, or four-sided, dice.

It all has to do with correcting the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s false conclusion that identical tetrahedrons fit together perfectly — like cubes — leaving no gaps or unoccupied space. When this was discovered to be wrong, reports The New York Times, scientists got to work, but they were only able to pack the pyramids so they filled 72 percent of the available space. Next, physicists used hundreds of the four-sided dice, stuffed into various containers like fishbowls, to get better results — nearly 78 percent, surpassing the more famous packing density of spheres (74 percent).

Then, a computer simulation carried out at the University of Michigan achieved 85 percent packing, which is believed to be the densest so far.

Why does it matter how densely you can pack your tetrahedrons? Is it just so that a Dungeon Master can organize his Bag of Holding more efficiently? It turns out the ancient mathematical puzzle may have — wait for it — military applications. A byproduct of this experiment was the discovery of a “quasicrystal” structure made up of tetrahedrons, which may lead to advances in communication and stealth technology. The research was funded by the U.S. Air Force and the National Science Foundation.

Subscribe for free updates!


View previous campaigns.

Powered by MailChimp

Nerdvana Media will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at news@nerdvanamedia.com. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

About the author

Jayson Peters

Digital, social and print media pro. Nerdvana's founder, curator and editor.


Post a comment...