4s and 9s

James Tanton tweeted: “How many of the 100-digit numbers composed solely of the digits 4 and 9 are divisible by 2^100”?

Well, there are 2^{100} 100-digit numbers composed only of the digits 4 and 9, and the chances that any given 100-digit number is divisible by 2^{100} are one in 2^{100}, so… one?

Turns out that’s right. The key here is that a number (written in decimal) is divisible by 2^k if the number made up of its last k digits is divisible by 2^k. So we can build up our number one digit at a time:

  • its last digit is divisible by 2, so it’s 4
  • its last two digits are divisible by 4. This must be 44 or 94; 44 is divisible by 4, and 94 isn’t, so it’s 44.
  • its last three digits are divisible by 8. This must be 444 or 944; 444 isn’t divisible by 8, and 944 is, so it’s 944.

And so on. But what guarantees that at every step our result is unique?

Let’s introduce some notation: N_k is the set of k-digit numbers made up of 4s and 9s which is divisible by 2^k. So N_1 = \{ 4 \}, N_2 = \{ 44 \}, N_3 = \{ 944 \}, etc. We’ll prove by induction that N_k has one element for every k \ge 1. Assume this is true for k. Given that N_k = \{ n_k \}, we want to find N_{k+1}. Every number in N_{k+1} must be divisible by 2^k, and so have its last k digits divisible by 2^k. So the only possible elements of N_{k+1} are 4 \times 10^k + n_k and 9 \times 10^k + n_k (that is, the numbers made from n_k by writing 4 and 9 at the front). Now, since n_k is a multiple of 2^k, either n_k \equiv 0 \mod 2^{k+1} or n_k \equiv 2^k \mod 2^{k+1}.

Now, observe that 4 \times 10^k = (2 \times 5^k) (2^{k+1}) is a multiple of 2^{k+1}, And observe that 9 \times 10^k = (3^2)(2^k)(5^k) has exactly k factors of 2 in its prime factorization, so it’s divisible by 2^k but not 2^{k+1}, so 9 \times 10^k \equiv 2^k \mod 2^{k+1}.

So if n_k \equiv 0 \mod 2^{k+1}, then N_{k+1} = \{ 4 \times 10^k + n_k \}, and if n_k \equiv 2^k \mod 2^{k+1}, then N_{k+1} = \{ 9 \times 10^k + n_k \}. In either case N_{k+1} is a singleton, and by induction, we have:

Proposition: there exists exactly one k-digit number composed solely of the digits 4 and 9 which is divisible by 2^k.

This generalizes: we could let 4 and 9 be replaced by any single even number and odd number.

Furthermore, since the proof is constructive, we can actually find the n_k with a few lines of Python. (I’ve initalized n to [0, 4] so that I could write code which starts indexing the n_k at 1.)

n = [0, 4]

for k in range(1, 100):
    if n[k] % 2**(k+1) == 0:
        n += [4*(10**k) + n[k]]
        n += [9*(10**k) + n[k]]

giving the result


The Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences has a few sequences along these same lines: A035014 gives such numbers made of 3s and 4s.  A05333 gives such numbers made of 4s and 9s and nearby sequences starting with  A053312 do the same for other pairs.


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