This series of posts concerns solving the following problem from the 2016 University of Maryland High School Mathematics Competition.
A sphere is divided into regions by 9 planes that are passing through its center. What is the largest possible number of regions that are created on its surface?
This series was actually written by my friend Jeff Cagle, department head for mathematics at Chapelgate Christian Academy, as he tried technique after technique to solve this problem. I thought that his resolution to the problem was an excellent example of the process of mathematical problem-solving, and (with his permission) I am posting the process of his solution here. (For the record, I have no doubt that I would not have been able to solve this problem.)
I didn’t really need the projection into the plane for the solution, but my problem-solving self needed it to be able to count points and regions in slow motion. So, I should present a cleaned-up solution:
Since there are 9 planes, each plane must intersect with every other in a line, creating two points on the surface of the sphere. Thus, there are (9∗8)/2 * 2 = 72 points of intersection, and for n planes, there are 𝑛(𝑛 − 1) points of intersection. With the first plane, there are zero points of intersection and two regions. Suppose we now have n planes and N regions. We add another plane, creating a circle on the sphere. For each segment that the circle intersects, it creates an additional intersection point as it enters, and it divides the region into two parts, adding one additional region. Hence, for each point added, a region is added as well. Since there are two
regions with zero points, there are thus 74 regions with 72 points of intersection.