Wonder whether you know where the following pearl of Topology first appeared:

Prove that at any instant of time you can find three isothermal points on the surface of the Earth that correspond to the vertices of an equilateral triangle.

According to somebody, all problems appeared once in the Monthly. Does that dictum applies to the above teaser, too?


Let me just elaborate a little on the references that Charlie Frohman listed (so this isn't really a separate answer, but it's too long for a comment).

The theorem for equilateral triangles is due to S. Kakutani (1942 Annals). He stated it just for triangles formed by orthonormal bases for $\mathbb R^3$, but the argument applies for all sizes of equilateral triangles. He deduced the interesting corollary that any compact convex set in $\mathbb R^3$ has a circumscribing cube, answering a question posed by Rademacher. Charlie Frohman's proof is similar in spirit to Kakutani's.

The n-dimensional generalization of Kakutani's theorem (and corollary) is due to H. Yamabe and Z. Yujobo (1950 Osaka Math J).

Returning to 3 dimensions, the corresponding result for 4 points at the vertices of a square inscribed in a great circle was shown by F. Dyson (1951 Annals), and G.R. Livesay generalized this to rectangles inscribed in a great circle (1954 Annals). The case of arbitrary triangles was done by E.E. Floyd (1955 PAMS).

It's interesting that this little topic produced three Annals papers, though each one was short -- just 3 pages. (When was the last 3-page Annals paper?)

The techniques used to prove the later theorems varied considerably. It might be interesting to see which ones can be proved by basic algebraic topology arguments as in Kakutani's theorem (which certainly deserves to be included in algebraic topology textbooks!).

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  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Oh the good ole days, when Annals published 3-page papers of general interest. $\endgroup$ – Victor Protsak Jun 2 '10 at 1:43
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot for taking the time to leave your reply, Professor Hatcher. $\endgroup$ – José Hdz. Stgo. Jun 3 '10 at 21:21

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