Today, I’ll talk about a set of puzzles I created just for this blog. The problems you’ve seen before — CrossNumber puzzles and Cryptarithms — I’ve been creating for many years. But in writing a blog about creativity in mathematics, I feel I should occasionally create something new….

I call these “Roman Numeral Puzzles” since they involve using Roman numerals in an interesting way. If you’re not familiar with how Roman numerals are written, just search online. (The internet knows everything.)

So here’s how the puzzles go. Fill in the following grid with the digits 0–9 and the letter X so that each row and column is either a number or a mathematically correct statment. The 1 may represent either the number 1 or an I in Roman numerals, and the X may represent either a multiplication symbol or an X in Roman numerals. For example, the second row may be XXX (the number 30 in Roman numerals), or 5X6 (since ), or 3XX, where the first X represents multiplication, and the second X the number 10. What an I or X represents in a row may not the same as what it represents in the corresponding column. And as usual, no number can begin with a “0.” Happy solving!

Let’s work through the solution for this puzzle together. Then there will be two more for you to try on your own.

First, look at the second column. It can’t be 100, since there would be no way to write 12 in the third row with a 0 in the middle. So the second column is a multiplication, and the only way to write 100 using three symbols is XXX, which we interpret as

In the third column, there is no way to write 40 as just a number, so it must be the result of a multiplication. So far, we have

Now think about how we can write 40. There are only four ways: 4XX, XX4, 5X8, and 8X5, where in the first two cases, the first “X” is the multiplication symbol, and the second “X” represents the number 10. Since the first and third rows must be multiplications and 8 is not a factor of 20 or 12, that leaves 4XX or XX4. But 10 is a factor of 20 (and not 12), so we’ve got to use XX4. Once we have this, the rest is easy to fill in:

These puzzles aren’t difficult to make. You can begin with a grid, and simply fill it in with symbols and work out the values for the rows and columns. Try to think of using numbers which can be represented in different ways. For example, in the puzzle below, I used 13 since it might either be written as a Roman numeral XIII, or a multiplication like 1X13. Having some entries end in 0 means a multiplication by 10, but that might be represented by 10 or X.

I can’t exactly remember what prompted me to bring in Roman numerals this way. You just let your mind wander — thinking about puzzles you are already familiar with, pushing the boundaries a bit — until your mind just “snaps” and you’ve got a concrete idea to try. Better minds than I have tried to pin down the creative process, so I won’t try to do that here. But I’m not really sure we’ll ever really undertand it….

Now the biggest challenge is solving your own puzzle and making sure it has a unique solution. Sure, you might say “find all solutions” — but as a puzzle maker, you really want just one solution. This is somehow more satisfying — if you create enough puzzles, I think you’ll see why. Good luck! And if you come up with any of your own puzzles, post them in a comment.

Here’s the puzzle.

And for a real challenge, here is a puzzle.

I hope you enjoy solving these puzzles. Let me know how it goes!

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