sarb wrote:
A researcher plans to identify each participant in a certain medical experiment with a code consisting of either a single letter or a pair of distinct letters written in alphabetical order. What is the least number of letters that can be used if there are 12 participants, and each participant is to receive a different code?
A. 4
B. 5
C. 6
D. 7
E. 8
One approach is to add a BLANK to the letters in order to account for the possibility of using just one letter for a code.
ASIDE: Notice that, if we select 2 characters, there's only 1 possible code that can be created. The reason for this is that the 2 characters must be in ALPHABETICAL order. Or, in the case that a letter and a blank are selected, there's only one possible code as well.
Now we'll test the answer choices.
Answer choice A (4 letters)Let the letters be A, B, C, D
We'll add a "-" to represent a BLANK.
So, we must choose 2 characters from {A, B, C, D, -}
In how many ways can we select 2 characters?
We can use combinations to answer this. There are 5 characters, and we must select 2. This can be accomplished in 5C2 ways (= 10 ways).
So, there are only 10 possible codes if we use 4 letters. We want at least 12 codes.
[i]ASIDE: If anyone is interested, we have a free video on calculating combinations (like 5C2) in your head below.
Answer choice B (5 letters)Let the letters be A, B, C, D, E
Once again, we'll add a "-" to represent a BLANK.
So, we must choose 2 characters from {A, B, C, D, E, -}
There are 6 characters, and we must select 2. This can be accomplished in 6C2 ways (= 15 ways...PERFECT).
So, the least number of characters needed is 5
Answer: B
Excuse me, but the problem says "alphabetical order".
etc., where all letters come in an alphabetical sequence.
AC, AD, AE, etc - is not very "alphabetical". There are not so many alphabets with such an order of letters.