Issue 17  Jan 2006 
A mathematician in Melbourne has applied a mathematical formula to solving one of the most irritating problems in the restaurant; how to stabilise a wobbly table without needing to jam a coaster under one of the legs. Dr Burkard Polster a researcher of Monash University in Melbourne , Australia and his international colleagues have calculated that simply turning a rectangular table around on most surfaces will cure the wobble. Ok, so the table might not necessarily end up being totally horizontal, which means your drink may still slide off. But it won't wobble. But if you are
curious
as to the mathematics behind such a solution you could do what Polster did himself and apply 'intermediate value theory' to solve the problem. His research uses this theory to pinpoint the process by which the balanced point can be found. "In practice, it does not seem to matter how exactly you turn your table on the spot, as long as you turn roughly around the centre of the table," he says. Polster says unlike four legs, three will always balance. This explains why you'll rarely encounter a wobbly threelegged stool. A fourth leg requires what is known as an extra degree of freedom to find stability, and this is provided by rotation. Give a table a fifth leg, Polster adds, and the chances of finding common ground for all of the legs becomes harder. Source:

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