It’s exciting times around PWN HQ—lots of things going on. 2014 should be a fun year for SAT prep. That has nothing to do with this contest, of course. I just like to open these contest posts with a little friendly chatter. I bet nobody even reads this stuff. :/ ANYWAY, here’s a challenge question!

For all positive integers n, let ↭n equal the number of unique prime factors of n. For example, ↭12 = 2, because there are 2 unique prime factors of 12: 2 and 3. If a is a positive integer less than 500,000, what is the greatest possible value of ↭a?

Post your answer in the comments—the first correct answer from someone who hasn’t won a contest before wins a Math Guide! Comments are set to require moderation until tomorrow to add a little suspense into the contest.

All the usual contest rules apply. One recent addition to the contest rules I’d like to draw your attention to:

  • No answer changing. When you post a comment, I get an email with that comment, and that’s what I use to judge the contest. Edits applied to your comment later don’t count, even if the edit occurs before someone else wins. Don’t post your comment until you’re sure of your answer.
Good luck!

UPDATE: Wow—I thought this would be tougher for you guys! Congrats to everyone who got it right, especially to Nick, who got his answer in first. Explanation follows below the cut…

The key to getting this question right is recognizing that the smaller the prime factors you use, the more you’ll be able to fit in before your product exceeds 500,000. Therefore, all you need to do to solve this problem is test out the incremental products of the smallest prime numbers!

2 × 3 = 6
2 × 3 × 5 = 30
2 × 3 × 5 × 7 = 210
2 × 3 × 5 × 7 × 11 = 2,310
2 × 3 × 5 × 7 × 11 × 13 = 30,030
2 × 3 × 5 × 7 × 11 × 13 × 17 = 510,510 ← Oops, too big!

What we’ve just shown there is the smallest number that can have 2 unique prime factors is 6, the smallest number that can have 3 unique prime factors is 30, …, the smallest number that can have 7 unique prime factors is 510,510. Therefore, no positive integer less than 500,000 can have more than 6 unique prime factors.