This is a system of equations of the Vietnamese Mathematical Olympiad 2013, the first day. Solve the system of equations $$\begin{cases} \sqrt{\sin^2 x + \dfrac{1}{\sin^2 x}} + \sqrt{\cos^2 y + \dfrac{1}{\cos^2 y}} = \sqrt{\dfrac{20y}{x+y}},\\ \sqrt{\sin^2 y + \dfrac{1}{\sin^2 y}} + \sqrt{\cos^2 x + \dfrac{1}{\cos^2 x}} = \sqrt{\dfrac{20x}{x+y}}. \end{cases}$$ I tried

Reduce[{Sqrt[ Sin[x]^2 + 1/Sin[x]^2] + Sqrt[ Cos[y]^2 + 1/Cos[y]^2] ==
    Sqrt[ 20 y/(x + y)], 
  Sqrt[ Sin[y]^2 + 1/Sin[y]^2] + Sqrt[ Cos[x]^2 + 1/Cos[x]^2] == 
   Sqrt[ 20 x/(x + y)]}, {x, y}, Reals]

My computer runs more than ten minutes, but I have not received results.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Maybe plotting (ContourPlot) them out would help you gain some useful intuition? $\endgroup$
    – Silvia
    Jan 11, 2013 at 16:35
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Is the 2013 olympiad over or are you asking us to help you solve this problem for you/your team while the contest is on-going? Can you link to your olympiad website where this problem is listed? $\endgroup$
    – rm -rf
    Jan 11, 2013 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @rm-rf You made a good point! +1 $\endgroup$
    – Silvia
    Jan 11, 2013 at 17:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Cross-posted at math.stackexchange.com/questions/275874/…. $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Jan 11, 2013 at 18:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @rm-rf You should also have asked if they are prone to share the awards $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2013 at 20:04

2 Answers 2


For contest problems (and real mathematical work), brute-force application of Mathematica often does not suffice. The software is better used as a tool for discovery and understanding. This answer is intended to illustrate that process.

Like Mathematica itself, people make progress by identifying and trandforming patterns. In this problem several strongly patterned features are evident. There are several ways we could characterize and exploit them, but I think the core ideas common to any successful attack will include some aspect of these two:

  1. On the left side of the equations we see four terms of the form $f(u) = \sqrt{u^2 + 1/u^2}$ where $u$ is variously equal to $\cos(x)$, $\cos(y)$, $\sin(x)$, and $\sin(y)$.

  2. On the right side of the equation we see two terms which are square roots of the form $20\frac{x}{x+y}$. Notice that these are homogeneous: simultaneously rescaling $x$ and $y$ will not change either fraction. We ought therefore to think of these terms as function of the ratio $r = x/y$. Let's write $g(r) = \sqrt{20 \frac{1}{1+r}}$, so that the two right sides are $g(r)$ and $g(1/r)$.

Let's begin the Mathematica exploration, then, by implementing $f$ and $g$ and plotting their values so that we can understand how these functions behave.

f[u_] := Sqrt[u^2 + 1/u^2];
g[r_] := Sqrt[20 / (1 + r)];
Plot[f[u], {u, 0, 1}, AxesOrigin -> {0, 0}]
Plot[g[r], {r, -1, 3}, AxesOrigin -> {-1, 0}]


Because this is a system of equations, we should expect to have to recombine them somehow. One's first thoughts would range among adding, subtracting, squaring, multiplying, and dividing them. Addition, subtraction, and division promise to be simplest and to exhibit the most symmetry. Taking addition to be the easiest, let's try it first. The sum of the two equations is

$$\left(f(\sin x) + f(\cos y)\right) + \left(f(\sin y)+ f(\cos x)\right) = g(x/y) + g(y/x).$$

The left hand side clearly can be arranged to equal the sum of a function of $x$ and the same function of $y$:

$$\left(f(\sin x) + f(\cos x)\right) + \left(f(\sin y) + f(\cos y)\right) = g(x/y) + g(y/x).$$

This is progress, because it indicates we should be studying two univariate functions, $f_0(t) = f(\sin t) + f(\cos t)$ and $g_0(r) = g(r) + g(1/r)$. Let us again ask Mathematica for visual help in understanding them:

f0[t_] := f[Sin[t]] + f[Cos[t]];
g0[r_] := g[r] + g[1/r];
Plot[f0[t], {t, -\[Pi], \[Pi]}, AxesOrigin -> {-\[Pi], 0}, 
    Ticks -> {Range[-\[Pi], \[Pi], \[Pi]/2]}]
Plot[g0[r], {r, -1, 3}, AxesOrigin -> {-1, 0}] 

Plots 2

The really interesting and striking things that emerge from inspecting these plots are

  1. $f_0$ is periodic with period $\pi/2$. In retrospect, that's obvious and easy to prove.

  2. $f_0$ has a lower bound which, by virtue of the periodicity and symmetry of $f_0$, occurs at $\pi/4$ plus all integral multiples of $\pi/2$. It's easy to calculate, but let's confirm:



  3. $g_0$ is defined only for non-negative values (which is trivial to show, now that we have seen it) and has an upper bound. We can find this using methods of calculus, but for now let's just consult Mathematica:

    Maximize[g0[r], r]

    $\left\{2 \sqrt{10},\{r\to 1\}\right\}$

It is now immediate that the left hand side of the sum of the equations cannot be any less than the minimum of $f_0(x)$ plus the minimum of $f_0(y)$; namely, $\sqrt{10} + \sqrt{10}$, and that the right hand side cannot be any greater than the maximum of $g_0(r)$; namely, $2 \sqrt{10}$. These values are equal!

This, the key insight, is the climax of the analysis. It establishes that the sum of the two equations can be true if and only if $f_0(x)$ and $f_0(y)$ are simultaneously at a minimum and $g_0(x/y)$ is at a maximum (which Mathematica has indicated occurs uniquely when $x/y=r=1$). Thus, remembering the periodicity of $f_0$,

$$x = y\ \text{ and }\ x = \pi/4 + n \pi/2 \quad (n \in \mathbb{Z})$$

are necessary conditions for any solution.

Plugging these values into the original equations shows that they both hold: we have found all the solutions.

Backtracking through this exploration will establish a program for proving the answer is correct. The only missing piece is finding the unique global minimum of $g_0$. This can be done in an elementary way (that is, without Calculus) by writing $t = \frac{1}{1+r}$, so that $g(r) = \sqrt{20}\sqrt{t}$ and $g_0(r) = \sqrt{20}\left(\sqrt{t} + \sqrt{1-t}\right)$. The common factor of $\sqrt{20}$ does not affect the position of the maximum. Concerning what's left, let $u = \sqrt{t}$ and $v = \sqrt{1-t}$. Then $u^2 + v^2 = 1$, showing that we need to maximize the linear form $u+v = (1,1)\cdot(u,v)$ along the unit circle. It is geometrically obvious (and easy to prove using a little vector arithmetic) that the maximum occurs when $(u,v)$ is parallel to $(1,1)$, whence $u=v$, implying $t=1/2$ and then $r=1$, QED.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ +1... This is how analysis on problems should be approached when using mathematica as a helping tool. Great post. $\endgroup$
    – night owl
    Mar 9, 2013 at 2:00

The equations are

eq1 = Sqrt[Cos[x]^2 + Sec[x]^2] + Sqrt[Csc[y]^2 + Sin[y]^2] == 
  2 Sqrt[5] Sqrt[x/(x + y)]

eq2 = Sqrt[Cos[y]^2 + Sec[y]^2] + Sqrt[Csc[x]^2 + Sin[x]^2] == 
  2 Sqrt[5] Sqrt[y/(x + y)]

Notice that

eq1 == eq2 /. {x -> y, y -> x}

If we could somehow show that only x == y gives good solutions, then the problem would be simplified significantly:

Reduce[eq1 /. y -> x, x, Reals]

(* ==>
C[1] \[Element] Integers && 
  (x == -2 ArcTan[Sqrt[3 - 2 Sqrt[2]]] + 2 \[Pi] C[1] || 
   x == 2 ArcTan[Sqrt[3 - 2 Sqrt[2]]] + 2 \[Pi] C[1] || 
   x == -2 ArcTan[Sqrt[3 + 2 Sqrt[2]]] + 2 \[Pi] C[1] || 
   x == 2 ArcTan[Sqrt[3 + 2 Sqrt[2]]] + 2 \[Pi] C[1])

As Silvia noted, you can use ContourPlot to get some hints and try t verify numerically that only x == y is an acceptable solution.

ContourPlot[{eq1, eq2} // Evaluate, 
   {x, -2 Pi, 2 Pi}, {y, -2 Pi, 2 Pi}, 
   MaxRecursion -> 3, PlotPoints -> 60]

Mathematica graphics

From the graph it appears that it's true that only x == y gives good solutions (for x == -y the RHS is undefined). What is left is to find a rigorous proof for this.

  • $\begingroup$ I tried plotting on $30\le x\le 40,30\le y\le 40$, the graph looks ambiguous. Maybe some strict processes to "show that only x == y gives good solutions" would be better. $\endgroup$
    – Silvia
    Jan 11, 2013 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Silvia Yes it would definitely be better. This is of course not a proof. If you post a proof, I'll remove this. $\endgroup$
    – Szabolcs
    Jan 11, 2013 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ I'll try (but may not succeed considering my math knowledge in this respect..) But please not remove your answer, as by speaking "solving in Mathematica", I think numerical solutions are always a good choice:) $\endgroup$
    – Silvia
    Jan 11, 2013 at 17:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Adding the equations and thinking about the left hand side suggests that most of the time the LHS must be larger than the RHS. Exploit symmetry, then, by adding both equations and minimizing the LHS, which is a sum of (identical) functions of $x$ and $y$, so it's really a one-variable problem. It's still hard for MMA, but substituting $u$ for $\sin(x)^2$ and $1-u$ for $\cos(x)^2$ leads us to compute Minimize[{Sqrt[u + 1/u] + Sqrt[1 - u + 1/(1 - u)], 0 <= u <= 1}, u]. What pops out immediately shows the crucial role of the factors of $20$ in the problem. :-) $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Jan 11, 2013 at 18:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is a forum forum.mathscope.org/showthread.php?t=39905 $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2013 at 0:42

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