A Particularly Prismatic Puzzle

Another week, another riddler. This was a fun one from Steve Abney:

Suppose I have a rectangle whose side lengths are each a whole number, and whose area (in square units) is the same as its perimeter (in units of length). What are the possible dimensions for this rectangle?

Alas, that’s not the riddle — that’s just the appetizer. The rectangle could be 4 by 4 or 3 by 6. You can check both of these: 4 · 4 = 16 and 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 = 16, while 3 · 6 = 18 and 3 + 6 + 3 + 6 = 18. These are the only two whole number dimensions the rectangle could have. (One way to see this is to call the rectangle’s length a and its width b. You’re looking for whole number solutions to the equation ab = 2a + 2b.)

On to the main course! Instead of rectangles, let’s give rectangular prisms a try. What whole number dimensions can rectangular prisms have so that their volume (in cubic units) is the same as their surface area (in square units)?

To get you started, Steve notes that 6 by 6 by 6 is one such solution. How many others can you find?

To solve this I set the volume equation

V = a b c

To be equal to the surface area equation

SA = 2ab + 2bc + 2bc

Rearranging, we can solve for a

a = \frac{2bc}{bc-2b-2c}

Then we iterate through the the first ten thousand integers for b and c to see if it leads to an integer value for a. It works for the following values:

(3, 8, 24)
(3, 9, 18)
(4, 8, 8)
(4, 6, 12)
(6, 6, 6)
(3, 12, 12)
(3, 10, 15)
(3, 7, 42)
(4, 5, 20)
(5, 5, 10)

Do I conclusively know that these are the only ones? No. But the fact that there aren’t any between 50 – 10,000 means I don’t think there are any after 10,000… but I’d be excited to be proven wrong!

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