Hockey sticks on planet ABBABA

Question: On the planet ABBABA, the inhabitants have a binary language where the only two letters in their alphabet are A and B. The language is incredibly efficient and complex in that every finite sequence of A’s and B’s is a valid word. How many of the words in this language have exactly five A’s and at most five B’s?

For instance, ABAAABA, AAAAA, and BBBBBAAAAA are all valid such words, since they all have five A’s and no more than five B’s.

For the sake of readers who might want to grapple with this problem on their own, I’ll leave the answer and discussion to the next page. We’ll start with a straightforward counting method, and then go on to find a much faster method that will also lead us to an elegant combinatorial proof of a well-known binomial coefficient identity. Once you think you have the answer, turn to page 2!

One thought on “Hockey sticks on planet ABBABA

  1. hmm in my opinion the nicest is the following:

    count subsets of size k of {1, 2, …, n}. One way is the direct binomial coefficient. The other way is to consider the largest element of such a subset, count, and sum over all possible largest elements. Equating gives hockey stick!

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