Le Monde puzzle [#1075]

November 21, 2018
By

(This article was first published on R – Xi'an's Og, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

A Le Monde mathematical puzzle from after the competition:

A sequence of five integers can only be modified by subtracting an integer N from two neighbours of an entry and adding 2N to the entry.  Given the configuration below, what is the minimal number of steps to reach non-negative entries everywhere? Is this feasible for any configuration?

As I quickly found a solution by hand in four steps, but missed the mathematical principle behind!, I was not very enthusiastic in trying a simulated annealing version by selecting the place to change inversely proportional to its value, but I eventually tried and also obtained the same solution:

      [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5]
   -3    1    1    1    1
    1   -1    1    1   -1
    0    1    0    1   -1
   -1    1    0    0    1
    1    0    0    0    0

The second part of the question is more interesting, but again without a clear mathematical lead, I could only attempt a large number of configurations and check whether all admitted “solutions”. So far none failed.

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