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Problem 19: Complex Numbers AMC 12 2008A #23

Problem: The solutions of the equation z 4 + 4z 3 i − 6z 2 − 4zi − i = 0 are the vertices of a


convex polygon in the complex plane. What is the area of the polygon?

Solution: We can look at the symmetry of the coefficients 1, 4, 6, 4, 1. This immediately


reminds us of the binomial expansion of (x + 1)4 .

However, we have to adjust this for the i’s and such. Notice that the complex units of
the coefficients are 1, i, −1, −i, −i. We notice that this is close to the pattern formed by
1, i, i2 , i3 , i4 .

Based on these two observations of symmetry, we can deduce that (z + i)4 is very close to
the given equation here. More specifically, we have that
√ π
(z + i)4 = 1 + i = 2 · cis
4
A translation of z by −i simply means replacing z with z − i. Remember that the imaginary
part is in the y-coordinate direction. So if we reduce z by the value i, visually, it’s the same
as sliding z downwards by 1 unit in the y direction. If you slide a shape down one unit, its
area doesn’t change.
√ π
So now, we started from (z + i)4 =

2 · cis 4

√ π
Now, we’ll replace z with z − i, and we get (z − i + i)4 = z 4 =

2 · cis 4 .

We can also rotate by an angle of -45 degrees counterclockwise, or −π/4 in radian measure,
and the area still won’t change. To rotate a complex number around the origin by an angle
of θ, you multiply it by cos θ + i sin θ, abbreviated cis θ.

So let’s do that: z 4 = 2 · cis π4 · cis −π
4

So now, the two rotations cancel out, since they are in opposite directions, and you get that
the original
√ area is the same as the area of the quadrilateral whose vertices are roots of
z4 = 2

8
√ √ √
Now, if we solve that equation, we get the numbers 2, − 8 2, i 8 2, −i 8 2.

4
If we plot those numbers as points in the complex plane, we find a square with area 2 2 .

Solution was combined from two solutions initially written by Alex Anderson & The Zuton
Force and compiled from Art of Problem Solving Forums.