A spherical cap is a portion of the sphere’s surface bounded by a circle. Given a sphere of radius $R$, how many randomly-placed caps are needed on average to cover the sphere? Assume each cap measures $R/2$ across its curved surface. (See the original framing in terms of bites of an apple at the link below.)

## Solution

This seems to be an explored, but unsolved problem in math, and so perhaps a wee bit unfair to pose as a “Riddle!” There are published results about bounds and limits, but rather than dig into those, let’s just do a simulation and get a ballpark answer.

The simulation makes two simplifications: first, that there are a finite number of points on the surface (in particular, $500^2$), and second, that the surface is not a sphere at all but a 2-dimensional flat, square space that is wrapped around like a cylinder, except in both dimensions (like a torus topologically), so that a circle placed on it that goes past the right (or top) edge covers also part of the left (or bottom) part of the square. This surface is like a sphere in that apart from an arbitrary (in this case $(x,y)$) coordinate system, there really are no distinguished points, but its geometry is different (e.g., familiar Euclidean principles are true of its triangles, unlike those on a sphere). This makes things simpler because, unlike on a sphere, there is a very natural way to evenly populate this surface with $500^2$ points, i.e., in a $500 \times 500$ grid, and also because we can drop circles on it rather than three-dimensional caps.

We’ll randomly drop circles onto this surface, where the ratio of the area of a circle to that of the surface is the same as that of a cap to the sphere as specified in the problem.

Using the code below, the $10,000$-repetition average was about $565.4$ (and not very stable at that many reps). Surprisingly high!

from random import randint
from math import sqrt,pi,cos

resolution = 500
reps = 10000

pointsList = [(x,y) for x in range(resolution) for y in range(resolution)]

def distance(p1,p2):
return sqrt((p1-p2)**2 + (p1-p2)**2)

r = sqrt((1-cos(.25))*resolution**2/(2*pi))

deltas = set([])
for x in range(int(-r),int(r+1)+1):
for y in range(int(-r),int(r+1)+1):
if distance((x,y),(0,0)) <= r:

accum = 0

for rep in range(reps):
remainingPoints = set(pointsList)
nBites = 0
while bool(remainingPoints):
nBites += 1
x,y = randint(0,resolution), randint(0,resolution)
for delta in deltas:
pointToNuke = ( (x+delta)%resolution, (y+delta)%resolution )