Easier Fibonacci puzzles

All these puzzles except one (which??) have the Fibonacci numbers as their answers.

So now you have the puzzle and the answer - so what's left? Just the explanation of why the Fibonacci numbers are the answer -that's the real puzzle!!

Puzzles on this page have fairly straight-forward and simple explanations as to why their solution invovles the Fibonacci numbers;.

Puzzles on the next page are harder to explain but they still have the Fibonacci Numbers as their solutions. So does a simple explanation exist for any of them?

Contents of this Page

Puzzles that are simply related to the Fibonacci numbers

• Brick Wall patterns o Variation - use Dominoes

• Making a bee-line with Fibonacci numbers

• Stepping Stones

• Fibonacci numbers for a change!

• Telephone Trees

• Leonardo's Leaps

• Two heads are better than one?

• Boat Building hew

• Pause for a little reflection

• A Puzzle about puzzles!

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 . .More. . E

Fibonacci numbers and Brick Wall Patterns

If we want to build a brick wall out of the usual size of brick which has a length twice as long as its height, and if our wall is to be two units tall, we can make our wall in a number of patterns, depending on how long we want it:

There's just one wall pattern which is 1 unit wide - made by putting the brick on its end.

There are 2 patterns for a wall of length 2: two side-ways bricks laid on top of each other and two bricks long-ways up put next to each other.

There are three patterns for walls of length 3.

How many patterns can you find for a wall of length 4?

How may different patterns are there for a wall of length 5?

Look at the number of patterns you have found for a wall of length 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Does anything seem familiar? Can you find a reason for this?

Show me an example of whythe Fibonacci numbers are the answer

Variation - use Dominoes

A domino is formed from two squares. In this variation of the Brick Wall puzzle, we are not interested in the spots on the dominoes, just their shape. If you like, turn the dominoes over with the spots underneath so that they all look the same.

Start by placing n dominoes flat on a table, face down, and turn them so that all are in the "tall" or "8" position (as opposed to the "wide" or "oo" orientation). Pack them neatly together to make a rectangle.

Take the same number of dominoes and, using this rectangle as the picture to aim at in a jigsaw puzzle, see how many other flat patterns you can make which have exactly this shape. This time dominoes can be placed in either the tall or wide direction in your design.

Make a table of the patterns you have found and the number of patterns possible using 1 domino (easy!), 2 dominoes, 3 dominoes, and so on, not forgetting to include the original rectangle design too.

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Making a bee-line with Fibonacci numbers

Here is a picture of a bee starting at the end of some cells in its hive. It can start at either cell 1 or cell 2 and moves only to the right (that is, only to a cell with a higher number in it).

There is only one path to cell 1, but two ways to reach cell 2: directly or via cell 1.

For cell 3, it can go 123, 13, or 23, that is, there are three different paths. How many paths are there from the start to cell number n?

The answer is again the Fibonacci numbers. Can you explain why?

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Chairs in a row: 1

This time we have n chairs in a row and a roomful of people.

If you've ever been to a gathering where there are teachers present, you will know they always talk about their school/college (boring!). So we will insist that no two teachers should sit next to each other along a row of seats and count how many ways we can seatn people, if some are teachers © (who cannot be next to each other) and some are not ©. The number of seating arrangements is always a Fibonacci number:

2 chairs ©© or ©© or ©© 3 ways since we do not allow ©©

3 chairs ©©©, ©©©, ©©©, ©©© or ©©© 5 ways this time ©©©, ©©© and ©©© are not allowed. You can write the sequences using T for Teacher and N for Normal, oops, I mean Not-teacher !!

There will always be a Fibonacci number of sequences for a given number of chairs, if no two teachers © are allowed to sit next to each other!

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Chairs in a Row: 2

This variation is a little friendlier to teachers.

Everyone, teacher © or not must not sit on their own, but a teacher © must be next to another teacher © or the teacher will be blue, and a non-teacher © must be next to a non-teacher © or she will be red-faced with embarrassment!

So we can have ... (iiXiiXii)... since the two teachers have the other teacher next to them. The non-teacher on the right of these 3 will now also need another non-teacher on his other side so that he too is not left on his own.

A special extracondition in this puzzle is that any seating arrangement must also start with a teacher!

5 chairs: ©©©©© or ©©©©© or ©©©©© 3 ways There will always be a Fibonacci number of arrangements if we start with a teacher.

What happens if we start with a non-teacher always?

What happens if we have no restriction on the first seat?

The answers to these two questions also involve the Fibonacci numbers too!!

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 ..More..

Stepping Stones

Some stepping stones cross a small river. How many ways back to the bank are there if you are standing on the n-th stone? You can either step on to the next stone or else hop over one stone to land on the next.

If you are on stone number 1, you can only step (s) on to the bank: 1 route.

If you are on stone 2, you can either step on to stone 1 and then the bank (step, step or ss) OR you can hop directly onto the bank (h):

step step ss

2 sequences

From stone 3, you can step, step, step (sss) or else hop over stone 2 and then step (hs) or else step on to stone 2 and then hop over stone 1 to the bank (sh):

3 sequences

Why are the Fibonacci numbers appearing?

[With thanks to Michael West for bringing this puzzle to my attention.

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Fibonacci numbers for a change!

Some countries have coins or notes of value 1 and 2. For instance, in Britain we have coins with values 1 penny (1p) and 2 pence (2p). The USA has 1 cent and 5 cent coins but not a 2 cents coin, but it does have ten dollar and twenty dollar bills ($10, $20). This problem uses coins or notes of values 1 and 2.

If we have just 1p and 2p coins, in how many ways can we make up a given amount of money with just these two coins? For instance:-

3p = 1p+1p+1p or 1p+2p or 2p+1p -- three ways step step

Since we are letting 1p+2p and 2p+1p be different solutions, then we are interested in the order that the coins are given also. You will have guessed how many ways there are to make up 4p and the general answer by now! But the challenge is: can you explain why the Fibonacci numbers appear yet again?

Follow up: What if we are interested in collections of coins rather than sequences? Here 1p+2p is the same collection as 2p+1p. How many collections are there? If the coins sum to n pence, these are called partitions of n and have many applications.

Can you find a simple link between answers to the Change puzzle and your answers to the Stepping Stones puzzle?

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No one!

Your younger sister is playing with her colouorange rods. They are of various lengths, from single ones (length 1 which are cubes) which are orange, length 2 are magenta, length 3 are blue and so on.

length 1

length 2

length 3

length 4

length 5

However, her brother has just taken all the length 1 rods (the orange cubes) to play with but has left her with all the rest.

So in how many ways can she make a line of length N if there are no rods of length 1? For a line of length 3, she can use only a rod of length 3.

But for a line of length 4, she can use either a rod of length 4 or else two rods of length 2. When it comes to making a line of length 5, she has several ways of doing it:

one rod of length 5:

a rod of length 3 followed by one of length 2:

OR she could put the rod of length 2 first and the 3-rod after it:

We can summarise this as follows: 5 = 2 + 3 = 3 + 2 and we can collect the possibilities in a table which just uses numbers:

We can summarise this as follows: 5 = 2 + 3 = 3 + 2 and we can collect the possibilities in a table which just uses numbers:

So what we are doing is listing sums where the number ONE must not appear in the sum. The order of the numbers matters so that 2+3 is not the same sum as 3+2 in this problem.

Technically, the collection of sums which total a given value N are called the partitions of N. Here we are finding all the partitions of N that do not use the number 1. It will always be a Fibonacci number!

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 ..More..

Telephone Trees

Easier Fibonacci Number puzzles This problem is about the best way to pass on news to lots of people using the telephone.

We could just phone everyone ourselves, so 14 people to share the news with would take 14 separate calls. Suppose each call takes just 1 minute, then we will be on the phone at least 14 minutes (if everyone answers their phone immediately).

Can we do better than this? We could use the speakers on the phone - the "hands free" facility which puts the sound out on a speaker rather than through the handset so that others in the room can hear the call too. For the sake of a puzzle, let's suppose that 2 people hear each call. That would halve the number of calls I need to make. My 14 calls now reduces to 7.

Can we do better still?

Well, we could ask each person who receives a call to not only put the call through the loudspeakers but also to do some phoning too. So if two people hear the message, they could each phone two others and pass it on in the same way and so on. Here's what it looks like if I have 14 people to phone in this system as the calls "cascade". In the first minute, my first call is heard by A and B. A's call is heard by both C and D; B's call by E and F, and so on as in this diagram:

me first minute second minute third minute

So all 14 people have heard the news in only 3 minutes! [This is an example of recursion - applying the same optimizing principle at all levels of a problem.]

Can we do even better than this?

Yes - if all the people got together in one room, it would only take one minute! So let's assume that I cannot get everyone together and I have to use the phone.

Now here is your puzzle. The phones in my company are rather old and do not have an external speaker (and no "conference call" facility) - only one person can hear each call. So I decide that I will phone only two people using two separate calls. I shall give them the news and then ask that they do the same and phone just two more people only. What is the shortest time that the news can pass to 14 people?

1. Draw the cascade tree of telephone calls, or the telephone tree for this problem. It begins like this:

first minute A \

second minute C \ B

How does the tree continue?

2. What is the maximum number of people in the office that could hear the news within N minutes using this method? Why is the answer related to the Fibonacci numbers?

^^ Inspired by Joan Reinthaler's Discrete Mathematics is Already in the Classroom - But It's Hiding in Discrete Mathematics in Schools, DIMACS Series in Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science, Volume 36, 1997, pages 295-299. This is a great book!

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 ..More..

Leonardo's Leaps

I try and take the stairs rather than the elevator whenever I can so that I get a little more exercise these days. If I'm in a hurry, I can leap two stairs at once otherwise it's the usual one stair at a time. If I mix these two kinds of action - step onto the next or else leap over the next onto the following one - then in how many different ways can I get up a flight of n steps?

For example, for 3 stairs, I can go

1: step-step-step or else 2: leap-step or finally 3: step-leap

How many ways are there to climb a set of 4 stairs? 5 stairs? n stairs? Why? Adapted from

^^ Applied Combinatorics (Third Edition) by A Tucker, Wiley, 1995, Example 2, pages 280-281.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 ..More..

Fix or Flip?

Permutations are re-arrangements of a sequence of items into another order. For instance, we can permute D,B,C,A into A,B,C,D.

before: DBCA after : ABCD

Here the D has swopped places with the A whilst the B and C have not moved.

In general, since we can place A in any of the 4 places, leaving 3 places for B (4x3=12 ways to place A and B) and so C can go in any of the remaining 2 places (so D has 1 choice left), then there are 4x3x2=24 permutations of 4 objects. In general, there are nx(n-1)x...x3x2 permutations of n objects.

Suppose we restrict how we may move (permute) an object to either fix it, leaving it in the same position or flip it with a neighbour - two items next to each other swop places (they cannot now be moved again).

However, not all permutations are made ofjust these two kinds of transformation. Here are 4 examples of permutations on 4 objects: A, B, C and D:

before after


This is not a fix-or-flip permutation since the A and D have moved more than 1 place.

before after


However, this is since nothing has moved - all 4 items were fixed!

before after


B and A have flipped and C and D remain fixed and so this is a fix-or-flip permutation.

before after


All objects have been flipped with a neighbour.

For 3 objects, ABC, we have 3x2x1=6 permutations:


Only the first three are fix-or-flip permutations. In the fourth A has moved more than 1 place and in the last two C has moved 2 places.

How many fix-or-flip permutations are there for 4 objects? for 5? for n objects? Why?

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 ..More..

Two heads are better than one?

Usually, if using a coin to make a decision, it is something like "Heads I win, Tails you lose" !!

What about tossing a coin until two heads appear one after the other? If we toss a coin twice, then there are four possible outcomes:

In only 1 of these four do we get two heads.

What happens if we have to wait for exactly three tosses before we get two heads?

This time the possibilities are

TTT, TTH, THT, HTH, HTT, and THH Note that we do not have HHT or HHH as we would have got two heads after only 2 tosses which was covered earlier. So there is again just 1 way to get two heads appearing, H on the second and H on the third toss.

How many ways are there if HH appears on the 3rd-and-4th tosses? TTTT, TTTH, TTHT, TTHH, THTT, THTH, HTHH,


This time we find 2 sequences.

Can you find a method of generating all the sequences of n coin-tosses that do not have HH until the last two tosses? Can you find a formula for how many of these will end in HH?

OPTIONAL EXTRA!!! What about the number of sequences of n coin tosses that end with three Heads together? Does this have any relationship to the Fibonacci numbers?

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 ..More..

Leonardo's Lane

This puzzle was suggested by Paul Dixon, a mathematics teacher at Coulby Newham School, Middlesbrough. A new estate of houses is to be built on one side of a street - let's call it Leonardo's Lane. The houses are to be of two types: a single house (a detached house) or two houses joined by a common wall (called "a pair of semi-detached houses" in the UK) which take up twice the frontage on the lane as a single house.

For instance, if just 3 houses could be fitted on to the plot of land in a row, we could suggest:

DDD: Three detached houses

DDD: Three detached houses

SD: a pair of semi's first followed by a detached house

DS: a detached house followed by a pair of semi's

If you were the architect and there was space for just n dwellings on the Lane of just the two kinds mentioned above, what combinations could you use along the lane?

O, 1, 1, 2, 3, S, 8, 13, 21, 34, SS, 89, 144, 233, 3^, 61O, 98V ..More..

Boat Building

[Suggested by Dmitry Portnoy (7th grade)]

A boat building company makes two kinds of boat: a canoe, which takes a month to make and a sailing dinghy and they two months to build.

The company only has enough space to build one boat at a time but it does have plenty of customers waiting for a boat to be built.

Suppose the area where the boats are built has to be closed for maintenance soon:

if it is closed after one more months work, the builders can only build one boat - a canoe - before then. Let's write this plan as C;

if it is to be closed after 2 months work, it can EITHER build 2 canoes (CC) OR ELSE build one dinghy (D), so there are two plans to choose from;

if it closed in three months time, it could make 3 canoes (CCC) or a dinghy followed by a canoe (DC) or a canoe and then a dinghy (CD); so there are three choices of plan. What choices are there if it closed after 4 months?

You can adapt this puzzle:

1. .. to larger boats: patrol boats taking a year to build or container ships which take two years to make

2. .. or you can make the problem smaller, and consider model boats, a small kit taking one month on your desk or a larger kit taking two months.

How many more ideas can you come up with for a similar puzzle? MEW

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Pause for a little reflection

If you look at a window of one sheet of flat, clear glass, what's on the other side is quite clear to see. But if you look through the same piece of glass when it is dark on the other side, for instance into a shop window when the shop is dark, you can see your own reflection. This time the clear glass is behaving like a mirror.

If you look very closely, you will see that your reflection is actually doubled - there are two images of your face side by side. This is because your image is not only reflected off the top surface of the glass but also gets reflected from the other side of the glass too - which is called internal reflection.

So a natural question is what happens if we have double glazing which has two sheets of glass separated by an air gap, that is, 4 reflecting surfaces?

Hang on a minute ... what about three surfaces?? Let's look at that first!

For three surfaces (for example two sheets of glass resting on each other) what happens depends on whether we are looking through both sheets of glass (the rays of light come in on one side of the window but exit from the other) or whether we are looking at our own reflection from the sheets (the rays of light enter and leave from the same side of the window).

We can ignore the reflection off the top surface - the light bounces off and we get one reflection. The other cases are the interesting ones - where all the reflections are internal reflections. In other words, the light rays must have actually penetrated the glass and we can get reflections from one or perhaps both or even none of the two internal surfaces. We may even get more reflections as the light bounces off the surfaces again and again, some of the light escaping each time.

The diagram here shows the possible reflections ordered by the number of internal reflections, starting with none (the light goes straight through) to a single internal reflection (from either of the internal surfaces so there are two cases) and then exactly two internal reflections and finally we have shown 3 internal reflections.

If you reflect on this, you'll notice that the Fibonacci numbers seem to be making themselves clearly visible (groan!). Why?

[Advanced puzzle: What does happen with 4 reflecting surfaces in a double glazed window?]

Reflections across Two and Three Glass Plates by V E Hoggatt Jr and Marjorie Bicknell-Johnson in The Fibonacci Quarterly, volume 17 (1979), pages 118 - 142.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 ..More..

A Puzzle about Puzzles

This is a puzzle about puzzles - the puzzle is to design your own puzzle!!

You might have noticed that quite a few of the puzzles above are really "the same" but the names and situations are changed a bit. It is fairly easy to see how Leonardo's Leaps is the same as the 1p and 2p coin change puzzle and also it is just Leonardo's Lane but slightly disguised. So...

can you devise your own puzzle where the answer is the Fibonacci numbers? The reason the puzzles above are "the same" is that the explanation of the solution of each of them involves the Fibonacci (recurrence) Rule:

F(n) = F(n-1) + F(n-2) together with the "initial conditions" that F(0)=0 and F(1)=1 Your puzzle should be based around this relationship.

Do you want to see your name on this page?

Please do email me with any new variations that you find. You can then share your idea with all the other readers of this page. Let's see how big a collection we can build!

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8

3, 13, 21, 34, 55,

89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987



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  • Veneranda
    What have fibonacci numbers got to do with brickwalls?
    2 years ago
  • asmeret
    What have fibonacci numbers got to do with coin combinations?
    8 months ago

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