James Tanton asked in a tweet: what’s the probability that an n-digit palindrome chosen at random is divisible by 11?

This depends heavily on $n$. In particular, if $n$ is even, the probability is 1. We can notice that $11, 1001, 100001, \cdots$ are each multiples of 11 (these are $11 \times 1, 11 \times 91, 11 \times 9091, \cdots$) and write a palindrome as a sum of multiples of these. For example

is a multiple of 11.

Let’s also consider the case where the digit count is odd. This is a bit trickier, and Mike Lawler (https://mikesmathpage.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/a-nice-divisibility-rule-problem-from-james-tanton/) and his younger son worked out that out of the 900 palindromes with five digits, 82 are divisible by 11.. In the three-digit case it’s not hard to find the full list of palindromes divisible by 11, and there are eight of them, from a total of 90. they’re 121, 242, 363, 484, 616, 737, 858, 969. There’s an obvious pattern here – consecutive elements of the list differ by 121, except when they don’t (going from 484 to 616).

So let’s go back to the notation and say we’re consider an -digit palindrome where . We want to iterate over possible “first halves” of the palindrome and figure out what the middle digit should be: we’re answering questions like “what five-digit palindrome starting with 28 is divisible by 11?” There is at most one -digit palindrome with any first -digit number which is divisible by 11. Consider the numbers

Each of these differs by 100 from the last one, which is one more than a multiple of 11, so when we reduce mod 11 we get

which are all different. Unless 28082 happens to be one more than a multiple of 11, one of these is a multiple of 11. As it turns out, 28082 is one {\it less} than a multiple of 11, and 28182 is a multiple of 11: .

So there is either zero or one palindrome of each of the forms . When is there no such palindrome? Observe that, for example,

$

and so 12000 and 21 differ by a multiple of 11. So and are congruent mod 11. To get to be a multiple of 11 we need (that is, ) to be a multiple of 11 – so we take . Indeed, is a multiple of 11, with .

But consider, for example, the number . This is congruent to mod 11, and is a multiple of 11 if and only if is – but none of are divisible by 11. Working backwards, this can be traced back to the fact that .

So the five-digit palindromes divisible by 11 are in one-to-one correspondence with the integers in $10, 11, \ldots, 99$ which are not congruent to 5 mod 11 — of which there are . This generalizes to -digit palindromes: there are 8182 nine-digit palindromes divisible by 11 (out of 90000 nine-digit palindromes), 818182 thirteen-digit palindromes (out of , and so on. These look an awful lot like the decimal expansion of , and in fact

For palindromes with three, seven, eleven, … digits the arithmetic works out a bit differently – but the final result can be expressed in this form: the number of -digit palindromes divisible by 11 is the closest integer to . The probability that Tanton asked for is almost exactly 1/11 — the same as the probability that a random integer is divisible by . The fact that the palindrome constraint has no effect is… obvious? Totally surprising. To be honest I don’t know.