2015 AMC 12A Problems/Problem 18


The zeros of the function $f(x) = x^2-ax+2a$ are integers. What is the sum of the possible values of $a$?

$\textbf{(A)}\ 7 \qquad\textbf{(B)}\ 8 \qquad\textbf{(C)}\ 16 \qquad\textbf{(D)}\ 17 \qquad\textbf{(E)}\ 18$

Solution 1

The problem asks us to find the sum of every integer value of $a$ such that the roots of $x^2 - ax + 2a = 0$ are both integers.

The quadratic formula gives the roots of the quadratic equation: $x=\frac{a\pm\sqrt{a^2-8a}}{2}$

As long as the numerator is an even integer, the roots are both integers. But first of all, the radical term in the numerator needs to be an integer; that is, the discriminant $a^2 - 8a$ equals $k^2$, for some nonnegative integer $k$.






From this last equation, we are given a hint of the Pythagorean theorem. Thus, $(k,4,|a-4|)$ must be a Pythagorean triple unless $k = 0$.

In the case $k=0$, the equation simplifies to $|a-4|=4$. From this equation, we have $a=0,8$. For both $a=0$ and $a=8$, $\frac{a\pm\sqrt{a^2-8a}}{2}$ yields two integers, so these values satisfy the constraints from the original problem statement. (Note: the two zero roots count as "two integers.")

If $k$ is a positive integer, then only one Pythagorean triple could match the triple $(k,4,|a - 4|)$ because the only Pythagorean triple with a $4$ as one of the values is the classic $(3,4,5)$ triple. Here, $k=3$ and $|a-4|=5$. Hence, $a=-1,9$. Again, $\frac{a\pm\sqrt{a^2-8a}}{2}$ yields two integers for both $a=-1$ and $a=9$, so these two values also satisfy the original constraints.

There are a total of four possible values for $a$: $-1,0,8,$ and $9$. Hence, the sum of all of the possible values of $a$ is $\boxed{\textbf{(C) }16}$.

Solution 2

By the quadratic formula, the roots $r$ can be represented by \[r=\frac{a\pm\sqrt{a^2-8a}}{2}\] For $r\in\mathbb{Z}$, $a\in\mathbb{Z}$, since $\frac{\sqrt{a^2-8a}}{2}$ and $\frac{a}{2}$ will have different mantissas (mantissae?).

Now observe the discriminant $\sqrt{a^2-8a}=\sqrt{a(a-8)}$ and have two cases.

Positive $a$

$a\geq8$ and $a\leq0$, since $1\geq a \geq7$ gives imaginary roots. Testing positive $a$ values, quickly see that $a\leq9$. After $16$ and $36$, the difference between the closest nonzero factor pairs of perfect squares exceeds $8$. For $8\geq a \geq9$, $a=8,9$. Checking both yields an integer.

Negative $a$

We can instead test with $\sqrt{-a(8-a)}$. If $b=8-a$, we have our original expression. Thus, for the same reasons, $b=8,9\implies 8,9=8-a$. $a=-1$ (0 does not affect the answer).

$-1+8+9=16\implies\boxed{\textbf{(C) }16}$

(Solution by BJHHar)

Solution 3

Let $m$ and $n$ be the roots of $x^2-ax+2a$

By Vieta's Formulas, $n+m=a$ and $mn=2a$

Substituting gets us $n+m=\frac{mn}{2}$


Using Simon's Favorite Factoring Trick:





This means that the values for $(m,n)$ are $(0,0),(4,4),(3,6),(1,-2)$ giving us $a$ values of $-1,0,8,$ and $9$. Adding these up gets $\boxed{\textbf{(C) }16}$.

Solution 4

The quadratic formula gives \[x = \frac{a \pm \sqrt{a(a-8)}}{2}\]. For $x$ to be an integer, it is necessary (and sufficient!) that $a(a-8)$ to be a perfect square. So we have $a(a-8) = b^2$; this is a quadratic in itself and the quadratic formula gives \[a = 4 \pm \sqrt{16 + b^2}\]

We want $16 + b^2$ to be a perfect square. From smartly trying small values of $b$, we find $b = 0, b = 3$ as solutions, which correspond to $a = -1, 0, 8, 9$. These are the only ones; if we want to make sure then we must hand check up to $b=8$. Indeed, for $b \geq 9$ we have that the differences between consecutive squares are greater than $16$ so we can't have $b^2 + 16$ be a perfect square. So summing our values for $a$ we find 16 (C) as the answer.

Additional note: You can use the quadratic and plug in squares for a (since for b^2 to be an integer a would have to be some square), and eventually you can notice a limit to get the answer~

See Also

2015 AMC 12A (ProblemsAnswer KeyResources)
Preceded by
Problem 17
Followed by
Problem 19
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All AMC 12 Problems and Solutions
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