Going through an IMO problem with kids

Last week I saw this problem on the IMO and thought that the solution was accessible to kids:

 

IMO

The problem is problem #1 from the 2017 IMO, just to be clear.

My kids were away at camp during the week, but today we had a chance to talk through the problem. We started by reading it and thinking about some simple ideas for approaching it:

The boys thought we should begin by looking at what happens when you start with 2. Turns out to be a good way to get going – here’s what we found:

In the last video we landed on the idea that looking at the starting integer in mod 3 was a good idea. The case we happened to be looking at was the 2 mod 3 case and we found that there would never be any repetition in this case. Now we moved on to the 0 mod 3 case. One neat thing about this problem is that kids can see what is going on in this case even though the precise formulation of the idea is probably just out of reach:

Finally, we looked at the 1 mod 3 case. Unfortunately I got a little careless at the end and my attempt to simply the solution for kids got a little to simple. I corrected the error when I noticed the mistake while writing up the video.

The error was not being clear that when you have a perfect square that is congruent to 1 mod 3, the square root can be either 1 or 2 mod 3. The argument we go through in the video is essentially the correct argument with this clarification.

It is pretty unusual for an IMO problem to be accessible to kids. It was fun to show them that this problem that looks very complicated (and was designed to challenge some of the top math students in the world!) is actually a problem they can understand.

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