As we enjoy the holidays, it’s a great time to reflect on the learning of math in more fun and festive ways. I find holiday-themed puzzles and riddles can often help us do this, as well as facilitate some of the mathematical thinking that we would like our students to demonstrate.

The most popular math puzzles are the ones where students have to figure out the total number of festive objects using some algebra. What I like about these questions is that the difficulty can vary and any problem can be made accessible.

The puzzle above is one that can be done by many elementary students, and the solution easily cascades down.

Here is one courtesy of Mashup Math. Again, fairly straightforward, but this time there are other operations, and students have to start with the equation that is most accessible and yields the answer for the first object (the gingerbread man).

Here is another one, geared to 5th graders, that gets them thinking algebraically.

Now most of us have seen these kinds of math puzzles before. So let me share one with you that you probably haven’t seen–and is really hard! It’s called Strimko. Let’s start with a really easy one.

Here’s how Strimko works. In this case you only get to use the numbers 1 to 3. (How many numbers depends on the size of the square.) Just like Soduko, a number can only appear once in a line vertically or horizontally. Similarly, a number can only appear once in each system of connected dots, also called a stream, no matter how it is oriented.

Here is a step-by-step solution to the problem above.

Got it? Okay, now we’re going to ramp it up and get all festive! The rules are embedded in the picture, but just make sure that each string of lights has all the numbers from 1 to 7 AND that no horizontal or diagonal line has two of the same number. You might be using your eraser a lot, but there is a systematic and logical approach to even a question of this difficulty and complexity.

Happy puzzling and have a safe and joyous holiday!