1971 Canadian MO Problems/Problem 4

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Problem

Determine all real numbers $a$ such that the two polynomials $x^2+ax+1$ and $x^2+x+a$ have at least one root in common.

Solution

Let this root be $r$. Then we have

$\begin{matrix} r^2 + ar + 1 &=& r^2 + r + a\\ ar + 1 &=& r + a\\ (a-1)r &=& (a-1)\end{matrix}$

Now, if $a = 1$, then we're done, since this satisfies the problem's conditions. If $a \neq 1$, then we can divide both sides by $(a - 1)$ to obtain $r = 1$. Substituting this value into the first polynomial gives

$\begin{matrix} 1 + a + 1 &=& 0\\ a &=& -2 \end{matrix}$

It is easy to see that this value works for the second polynomial as well.

Therefore the only possible values of $a$ are $1$ and $-2$. Q.E.D.

1971 Canadian MO (Problems)
Preceded by
Problem 3
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Followed by
Problem 5
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