1981 IMO Problems/Problem 2

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Problem

Let $1 \le r \le n$ and consider all subsets of $r$ elements of the set $\{ 1, 2, \ldots , n \}$. Each of these subsets has a smallest member. Let $F(n,r)$ denote the arithmetic mean of these smallest numbers; prove that

$F(n,r) = \frac{n+1}{r+1}.$

Solutions

Solution 1

Clearly, the sum of the desired least elements is $\sum_{k=1}^{n} k {n-k \choose r-1} = \sum_{k=1}^{n} {k \choose 1}{n-k \choose r-1}$, which we claim to be equal to ${n+1 \choose r+1}$ by virtue of the following argument.

Consider a binary string of length $n+1$ which contains $r+1$ 1s. For some value of $k$ between 1 and $n$, inclusive, we say that the second 1 will occur in the $(k+1)$th place. Clearly, there are ${k \choose 1}$ ways to arrange the bits coming before the second 1, and ${n-k \choose r-1}$ ways to arrange the bits after the second 1. Our identity follows.

Since the sum of the least elements of the sets is ${n+1 \choose r+1}$, the mean of the least elements is $\frac{{n+1 \choose r+1}}{{n \choose r}} = \frac{n+1}{r+1}$, Q.E.D.

Solution 2

We proceed as in the previous solution, but we prove our identity using the following manipulations:

$\begin{matrix}\sum_{k=1}^{n}k{n-k \choose r-1 } &=&\sum_{k=1}^{n-(r-1)}{k}{n-k \choose r-1}\\ &=& \sum_{i=1}^{n-(r-1)}\sum_{k=i}^{n-(r-1)}{n-k \choose r-1}\\ &=&\sum_{i=1}^{n-(r-1)}{n-i+1 \choose r}\\ &=&{n+1 \choose r+1} \end{matrix}$

Q.E.D.

Solution 3

We proceed by strong induction.

We define $F(k, k-1)$ to be zero (the empty sum).

We consider $r$ to be fixed. The assertion obviously holds for $r = n$. We now assume the problem to hold for values of $n$ less than or equal to $k$. By considering subsets containing $k+1$ and not containing $k+1$, respectively, we conclude that

$F(k+1, r) = \frac{{k \choose r-1}F(k,r-1) + {k \choose r}F(k,r)}{{k+1 \choose r}} = 1 + \frac{k-r+1}{r+1} = \frac{k+2}{r+1}$.

This completes our induction, Q.E.D.

Alternate solutions are always welcome. If you have a different, elegant solution to this problem, please add it to this page.

1981 IMO (Problems) • Resources
Preceded by
Problem 1
1 2 3 4 5 6 Followed by
Problem 3
All IMO Problems and Solutions
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