Archive for October, 2016

Math Millionaire Quiz

It’s hard to believe that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire has been on the air since 1999, isn’t it? Even harder to believe is the number of math questions that have been missed by contestants.

WWTBAM2010falllogo

In this post, I’m going to share five questions that have appeared on WWTBAM, followed by a brief discussion. If you’d like to solve them before reading the discussion, or if you want to share the quiz with friends or students, you can download it:

Math Millionaire Quiz (PDF)

Three of the five questions were answered incorrectly by contestants. In one case, the contestant polled the audience and received some bad advice. If I hadn’t put this collection together, I’m not sure I would’ve been able to identify which ones were answered correctly. So maybe that’s a bonus question for you: Which two questions were answered correctly?

I’m unquestionably biased, but I always feel like the math questions on WWTBAM are easier than questions from other disciplines. Then again, maybe a history major would think that questions about Eleanor of Aquitaine are trivial. But take these non-math questions:

  • In the children’s book series, where is Paddington Bear originally from? (Wait… he’s not from England?)
  • What letter must appear at the beginning of the registration number of all non-military aircraft in the U.S.? (Like most things, it’s obvious — once you know the answer.)
  • For ordering his favorite beverages on demand, LBJ had four buttons installed in the Oval Office labeled “coffee,” “tea,” “Coke,” and what? (Hint: the drink wasn’t available when he was Vice President.)

My conjecture is that non-math questions generally have an answer that you either know or don’t know, but math questions can be solved if given enough time to apply some logic and computation.

Perhaps you’ll disagree after attempting these questions.

1. What is the minimum number of six-packs one would need to buy in order to put “99 bottles of beer on the wall”?

  1. 15
  2. 17
  3. 19
  4. 21

2. Which of these square numbers also happens to be the sum of two smaller square numbers?

  1. 16
  2. 25
  3. 36
  4. 49

3. If a euro is worth $1.50, five euros is worth what?

  1. Thirty quarters
  2. Fifty dimes
  3. Seventy nickels
  4. Ninety pennies

4. How much daylight is there on a day when the sunrise is at 7:14 a.m. and the sunset is at 5:11 p.m.?

  1. 9 hours, 3 minutes
  2. 8 hours, 37 minutes
  3. 9 hours, 57 minutes
  4. 8 hours, 7 minutes

5. In the year she turned 114, the world’s oldest living person, Misao Okawa of Japan, accomplished the rare feat of having lived for how long?

  1. 50,000 days
  2. 10,000 weeks
  3. 2,000 months
  4. 1 million hours

Discussion and Answers

1. Okay, really? Since 16 × 6 = 96, one would need 17 six-packs, B.

2. This is the one for which the contestant asked the audience. That was a bad move… 50% of the audience chose A, but only 30% chose the correct answer. Since 25 = 9 + 16, and both 9 and 16 are square numbers (9 = 32, 16 = 42), the correct answer is B.

3. It’s pretty easy to calculate $1.50 × 5 = $7.50. The hard part is figuring out which coin combination is also equal to $7.50. Okay, it’s not that hard… but it took Patricia Heaton a lifeline and more than 4 minutes.

4. My question is whether daylight is officially defined as the time from sunrise to sunset. Apparently, it is. That makes this one rather easy. From 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. is 10 hours, and since 11 and 14 only differ by 3 minutes, we need a time that is 3 minutes less than 10 hours: C, final answer.

5. Without a doubt, this is the hardest of the five questions. Contestants aren’t allowed to use calculators, so they need to rely on mental math. Estimates will do wonders in this case.

  • Days: 114 years × 365.25 days/year ≈ 100 × 400 = 40,000 days
  • Weeks: 114 years × 52.18 weeks/year ≈ 120 × 50 = 6,000 weeks
  • Months: 114 years × 12 months/year < 120 × 12 = 1,440 months
  • Hours: 114 years × 365.25 days × 24 hr/day ≈ 40,000 × 25 = 1,000,000 hours

Only the last result is close enough to be reasonable, so the answer must be D.

What’s amusing is that the contestant got the correct answer, but for the wrong reasons. For instance, he estimated the number of weeks to be 50,000, not 5,000. He then used that result to say, “It can’t be 50,000 days, because it’s about 50,000 weeks.” That’s using a false premise to arrive at a correct conclusion. On the other hand, I wonder how well I’d be able to calculate in front of a national audience with $25,000 on the line. Regardless of how he got there, he correctly chose D, to which host Terry Crews said, “You took your time on this. You worked it through. It’s what we all need to do in life sometimes. And that’s how you win the game!”

Should I ever become a question writer for Millionaire, I’d submit the following:

Which of the following are incorrect answers to this question?

  1. B, C, D
  2. A, B, C
  3. A, C, D
  4. A, B, D

October 22, 2016 at 6:14 am Leave a comment

Do You Have Mathopia?

When I was young, we spent a lot of time on highways, driving to and from our summer cottage. I’d see a Pennsylvania license plate like the one below, which at the time had five digits and one letter. Most people, I suspect, would be unimpressed. But not me. I’d say to my parents, “How cool is that license plate? If p = 26 and the cracked bell were an equal sign, it would be 23 × 26 = 598.”

PA License Plate 1971

My mom would respond with, “If you say so,” or a shrug. She had failed algebra in high school and would regularly and disgustedly declare, “How the hell can x = 6, when x is a letter and 6 is a number?”

My father — who dropped out of school to join the Navy at age 15 and had never taken an algebra course — would simply grunt.

Neither of them saw the beauty in numbers. I, on the other hand, couldn’t not see it. I wasn’t mad about this. I was just sad that they couldn’t share my joy.

On my commute this morning, I saw a truck with the number 12448 on the tailgate. I mentally added two symbols and formed the equation 12 × 4 = 48.

When my boss told me that he was retiring on January 4, I remarked, “What a great choice! The numbers 1, 4, and 16 are all square numbers, and 1, 4, 16 forms a geometric sequence.”

The truth is, it’s not really possible for me to look at a number — whether it’s a license plate, calendar, billboard, identification card, lottery number, bar code, serial number, road sign, odometer, checking account, confirmation number, credit card, phone number, phone bill, receipt total, frequent flyer number, VIN, TIN, PIN, ISBN, or any of a million other numbers — and not try to figure out some way to give it meaning beyond just its digits.

I’m not the only one with this affliction. All mathy folks have mathopia — a visual disorder that causes us to see the all things through a mathematical lens.

G. H. Hardy had mathopia. He looked for a special omen in 1729, the number of the taxicab he took to visit his sick friend Srinivasa Ramanujan. Upon arriving, he mentioned that he hoped it wasn’t a bad omen to have taken a cab with such a dull number. Ramanujan had mathopia, too. He replied that 1729 was actually “an interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.”

Jason Padgett, whose latent mathematical powers suddenly appeared after he sustained a brain injury, has mathopia. He explained how he sees the world:

I watch the cream stirred into the brew. The perfect spiral is an important shape to me. It’s a fractal. Suddenly, it’s not just my morning cup of joe; it’s geometry speaking to me.

This is the way that math people work. We see numbers and patterns everywhere, sometimes even when they’re not really there. Or, maybe, when they’re not meant to be there. And while I am not trying to imply that I’m anything close to Hardy or Ramanujan or Padgett, I do think that they and I shared one characteristic — the burden, and the blessing, of seeing the world through math-colored glasses.

World Sight Day, celebrated on the second Thursday of October each year — in other words, today — seems like a good day to bring awareness of mathopia to the masses. It doesn’t hurt that today is 10/13/16, a date forming an arithmetic sequence, in which all three numbers are Belgian-1 numbers. (See, I can’t turn it off.)

Do you have mathopia? What do you see when you encounter a number?

October 13, 2016 at 1:07 pm Leave a comment

Dos Equis XX Math Puzzles

No, the title of this post does not refer to the beer. Though it may be the most interesting blog post in the world.

dos-equis-logo-web

It refers to the date, 10/10, which — at least this year — is the second day of National Metric Week. It would also be written in Roman numerals as X/X, hence the title of this post.

For today, I have not one, not two, but three puzzles for you. I’m providing them to you well in advance of October 10, though, in case you’re one of those clever types who wants to use these puzzles on the actual date… this will give you time to plan.

The first is a garden-variety math problem based on the date (including the year).

Today is 10/10/16. What is the area of a triangle whose three sides measure 10 cm, 10 cm, and 16 cm?

Hint: A triangle appearing in an analogous problem exactly four years ago would have had the same area.

10-10-10 Triangle

The next two puzzles may be a little more fun for the less mathy among us — though I’m not sure that any such people read this blog.

Create a list of words, the first with 2 letters, the second with 3 letters, and so on, continuing as long as you can, where each word ends with the letter X. Scoring is triangular: Add the number of letters in all the words that you create until your first omission. For instance, if you got words with 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8 letters, then your score would be 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 = 14; you wouldn’t get credit for the 8-letter word since you hadn’t found any 6- or 7-letter words.

2 letters: _________________________
3 letters: _________________________
4 letters: _________________________
5 letters: _________________________
6 letters: _________________________
7 letters: _________________________
8 letters: _________________________
9 letters: _________________________
10 letters: _________________________
11 letters: _________________________
12 letters: _________________________
13 letters: _________________________
14 letters: _________________________

Note: There are answer blanks above for words up to 14 letters, because — you guessed it — the longest English word that ends with an X contains 14 letters.

The third and final puzzle is a variation on the second.

How many words can you think of that contain the letter X twice? (Zoiks!) Scoring: Ten points for the first one, and a bazillion points for each one thereafter — this is hard! Good luck!

If you’re in desperate need of help, you can access my list of words for both puzzles — of which I’m fairly proud, since my list of words that end in X include math words for 2 through 10 letters — or do a search at www.morewords.com.

October 6, 2016 at 10:10 am Leave a comment


About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

MJ4MF (offline version)

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.

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