My coauthor Konstantin Knop publishes cute math problems in his blog (in Russian). Recently he posted a coin weighing problem that was given at the 2010 Euler math Olympiad in Russia to eighth graders. The author of the problem is Alexander Shapovalov.
Among 100 coins exactly 4 are fake. All genuine coins weigh the same; all fake coins, too. A fake coin is lighter than a genuine coin. How would we find at least one genuine coin using two weighings on a balance scale?
It is conceivable that your two weighings may find more than one genuine coin. The more difficult question that Konstantin and his commentators discuss is the maximum number of genuine coins you can guarantee to identify in two weighings. Konstantin and the others propose 14 as the answer, but do not have a proof yet.
I wonder if one of you can find a bigger number than Konstantin or alternatively a proof that indeed 14 is the largest possible.
You might ask, considering the title of this piece, why I think that coins are scary. No, I am not afraid of coins. It scares me that this problem was given to eighth graders in Russia, because I cannot imagine that it would be given to kids that age in the USA.
By the way, ten eighth grade students in Russia solved this problem during the competition.