**Problem:** What is the largest prime factor of the number 600851475143 ?

**Commentary:** This problem is not very hard, and there is much less of interest to say about it than in problems 2 and 25. The only real hitch is knowing what a prime is and knowing a few things about factorization.

As it turns out, there is a surprising amount of research–even current day research, regarding factorizations of number-like things. Here, thankfully, the problem is easy enough. Since we’re working in the integers, we have nice things like the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic, which says that every natural number (1,2,3,…) greater than 1 can be written as a product of powers of primes, and that ignoring the order in which you present the factors of that factorization, that any such factorization is unique.

If you actually managed to read that sentence, then you’re probably thinking “Well of course! That’s just how things are!” But you should know better. One of the most fundamental questions you can ask in any field, but in particular mathematics, is to ask what a symbol means. What does “” mean, or what does “” (for multiplication) mean? These are important questions that you’ve probably never had to deal with unless you’ve studied math. As it turns out, such questions aren’t irrelevant–at all.

So what is ““? It’s a (actually THE) thing which when you take any other thing–I’ve forgotten the other thing’s name, so let’s call it –take that other thing and do this

or this

then you’re guaranteed to “get back”. Well, shit, now we need to know what “” is. Our friend “” is a thing which gives you a thing when you use it on two allowed things. Oh, but it can’t give you just any old thing. That would be ridiculous. We mathematicians are civilized folk, afterall, so there are rules here. Let’s say we have three things–and I’ve forgotten their names, so let’s just call them , , and . Then the rules of the game are

- Whatever is, it had better be a thing
- , whatever that is, had better be the same thing as
- is a thing, and and

Ok, so what is a prime? A prime is a thing which isn’t (the thing so that when you do or you get –let’s not get into what is right now, though…), it also isn’t a “unit”, meaning that there is no thing–let’s say , so that never happens and so that never happens. But wait, there’s more! There’s one final catch, and it’s the biggie. If you have two things, say and , and you form a (potentially) new thing called ; well, if it turns out that divides (meaning there is a thing so that ), then had better divide or had better divide .

Wait, did I just say that isn’t prime? That’s right, it isn’t. It never has been. It never will be. Nobody but crackpots thinks it is. Deal with it, nerd.

Oh right, primes. So we’ve talked about ; what do you think means? Well, it usually means , but I don’t want to get into right now, so let’s stick to the numbers we’re familiar with.

I pose a simple question to you. Is prime? The answer is: it depends (because the question is poorly worded!). Remember what it means to be primes. First and foremost, it isn’t –which, and you’re just going to have to trust me, we can check off the list–and it isn’t a unit. So think about the collection of all integers. The integers are the things that go 1,2,3,…, together with 0 and things like -1,-2,-3,… . As it turns out, this isn’t yet another thing your gradeschool teacher got wrong. Our old friend is prime in the integers. But what about the collection of all rational numbers–the things which can be written as ratios of integers. Is prime in this collection? Nope! Well, not so long as you believe that is a thing (in the collection of rational numbers). Because if it is, then , which means that is a unit in the rationals. Which means, by definition, it can’t be prime.

So now that no one is confused, let’s return to the original problem.

The R code here isn’t something I’d probably do over again, but this was the first solution (which I did slightly clean up post hoc, but the integrity of the dumbness was kept in tact). The key here is realizing that any natural number can have at most one prime divisor greater than . Indeed, if it had two such, say and with , then since divides and divides , by virtue of being prime (actually all we need is , which we certainly get from primality) we would have the product dividing (note that this is the part of the argument that fails if the divisors aren’t prime; for example, 100 has several divisors greater than , namely 20, 25, and 50. Of course, none of these is prime…but that was my whole point). The easiest way to convince yourself that this is so is to think about the “general” prime factorization of (see the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic). So by definition of division in the integers, that means there exists some natural number with and . But then

In short, we have shown that under the assumption that has two prime divisors each of which larger than , we are able to conclude that , which is absurd. So that original assumption must not have been a very good one; in other words, it’s not true.

The above will be useful in later problems. Basically, all of the above is necessary to know if you’re in the game of prime finding.

So now that we’ve made the observation, all that remains is the code for the solution. There’s lots of fussing around to do depending on a couple of things that could happen, but don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. The algorithm basically goes like this: Let’s say that big old number is . Then we should

- Check the odd integers from 3 up to to see if they divide n, stow these away in a list
- Take the smallest entry from this list, say , and replace with . Make sure doesn’t divide ; also , …
- Get your new upper bound, (where is really the original number divided by )
- Continue in this fashion until either , in which case the smallest entry in the aforementioned list will be the largest prime dividing the original number, or until that smallest entry has broken the next upper bound, in which case your winner is .

**R Code:**

ElapsedTime <- system.time({
##########################
n <- 600851475143
test <- 3
if (n%%2 == 0){
n <- n/2
test <- 2
}
if (n == 1){
answer <- 2
} else {
upper.bound <- sqrt(n)
temp.vec <-
(test:ceiling(upper.bound))[test:
ceiling(upper.bound)%%2 == 1]
while (test < upper.bound){
temp.vec <- temp.vec[n%%temp.vec == 0]
if (length(temp.vec) != 0){
test <- head(temp.vec, 1)
n <- n/test
while (n%%test == 0){
n <- n/test
}
upper.bound <- sqrt(n)
temp.vec <-
(test:ceiling(upper.bound))[test:
ceiling(upper.bound)%%2 == 1]
} else {
test <- n
}
}
if (n == 1){
answer <- test
} else {
answer <- n
}
}
##########################
})[3]
ElapsedMins <- floor(ElapsedTime/60)
ElapsedSecs <- (ElapsedTime-ElapsedMins*60)
cat(sprintf("\nThe answer is: %d\nTotal elapsed time: %d minutes and %f seconds\n", answer, ElapsedMins, ElapsedSecs))

**Output:**

The answer is: 6857

Total elapsed time: 0 minutes and 0.050000 seconds

**Final Thoughts: **This solution isn’t exactly fantastic. For one, it’s complicated to even look at. The solution provided in the post-solution commentary for this problem is a bit more elegant, though it feels more C-ish than R-ish–and my solution is definitely unique to R and its adorable quirks. Additionally, the arguably more elegant solution (that provided by Project Euler) doesn’t really do a whole lot better speed-wise. Basically what I’m trying to say is that my solution will piss off programmers, but who says they don’t deserve it?