#MathProblemOfTheDay: keeping warm in the snow

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Which position would keep you warmer?

The answer is probably intuitive to you. That’s why I love this image – it connects simplicity and intuition to a more complex topic: optimization.

Optimization is an example of applied calculus. It sounds all fancy but it can be expressed simply. You want to optimize one thing (in other words, maximize something you want, or minimize something you don’t want), while keeping another thing constant (this is called a constraint).

In this photo, I want to minimize surface area to keep warm. (Why will minimizing surface area keep me warm??) My constraint is my volume – I can’t change the size of my body. It stays constant no matter how I position myself.

Ok, now imagine we’re no longer dealing with the human body. Take a piece of clay. What would you mold it into, in order to minimize surface area? How do you know you’ve succeeded?