Nautilus

The Impossible Mathematics of the Real World

Using stiff paper and transparent tape, Craig Kaplan assembles a beautiful roundish shape that looks like a Buckminster Fuller creation or a fancy new kind of soccer ball. It consists of four regular dodecagons (12-sided polygons with all angles and sides the same) and 12 decagons (10-sided), with 28 little gaps in the shape of equilateral triangles. There’s just one problem. This figure should be impossible. That set of polygons won’t meet at the vertices. The shape can’t close up.

Kaplan’s model works only because of the wiggle room you get when you assemble it with paper. The sides can warp a little bit, almost imperceptibly. “The fudge factor that arises just from working in the real world with paper means that things that ought to be impossible actually aren’t,” says Kaplan, a computer scientist at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Impossibly real: This shape, which mathematician Craig Kaplan built using paper polygons, is only able to close because of subtle warping of the paper.Craig Kaplan

It is

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus9 min read
Can We Revive Empathy in Our Selfish World?: An experiment shows how to rebuild human compassion.
You wake up on a bus, surrounded by all your remaining possessions. A few fellow passengers slump on pale blue seats around you, their heads resting against the windows. You turn and see a father holding his son. Almost everyone is asleep. But one ma
Nautilus9 min readScience
Tantalizing Creatures with Male and Female Genes: Gyandromorphs overturn traditional theories of sexual development.
As they often do after a rainstorm, butterflies had gathered around puddles on Pigeon Mountain in northwest Georgia. Nets in hand, James Adams and his friend Irving Finkelstein watched the insects lapping up salts and proteins dissolved in the muddy
Nautilus7 min readScience
Evolution Is Really Not That Into Sex: Plants and animals have reproduced without sex for eons. So why did nature bother?
What is sex for? When I regularly queried students at the beginning of my course in evolutionary biology, most responded that it was for reproducing. Reasonable enough, but wrong. In fact, lots of living things reproduce without sex: Asexual reproduc