Posts tagged ‘anagram’

Demitri Martin and Me

As I was watching If I by Demetri Martin, I realized something.

I love Demitri Martin, because I am Demetri Martin.

Not literally, of course. I didn’t inhabit his body and take over his soul. (Would if I could!) Nor is this blog a ruse that appears to be written by Patrick Vennebush when it is, in fact, written by Demitri Martin. I just mean that he and I are about as similar as two people can be without entering the world from the same womb. Check out this list:

Demitri Martin Patrick Vennebush
He’s weird. (In a good way.) I’m weird. (No disclaimer.)
He did Mensa puzzles as a kid. I did Mensa puzzles as a kid.
He uses convoluted mnemonics to remember numbers. I use convoluted mnemonics to remember numbers.
He uses drawings and visual aids during stand-up performances. (See below.) I use drawings and visual aids during math presentations. (See below.)
He was influenced by Steven Wright, Emo Philips, Eddie Izzard, and Mitch Hedberg. I watched every Steven Wright performance on cable television when I was a teenager; my favorite joke is from Emo Philips; I own every Eddie Izzard CD; and one of my great regrets is that I never saw Mitch Hedberg perform live.
He was slated to play Paul de Podesta in Moneyball but was replaced by Jonah Hill. I wasn’t in Moneyball, either.
He was born in a prime number year (1973). I was born in a prime number year (1971).
He won a Perrier Comedy Award. I sometimes drink Perrier while watching Comedy Central.
He once attended class wearing a gorilla suit. I had no fashion sense in college.
He is extremely allergic to nuts. I’m not allergic to them, but I really don’t like crazy people.


One of Demetri’s drawings:

Ants Bears People

One of my drawings:Celsius Benchmarks

Oh, sure, I could list hundreds of other similarities between Demitri and me, but I think the list above is enough to see that the coincidence is uncanny. I mean, we practically live parallel lives.

Demetri used to sneak Mensa puzzle books — not muscle mags or girlie mags — into school to read during class. One of the puzzles purportedly from his Mensa Presents Mighty Mindbusters book:

If a crab-and-a-half weigh a pound-and-a-half, but the half-crab weighs as much again as the whole crab, what do half the whole crab and the whole of the half-crab weigh?

He said that solving problems from those books was validating.

When I got one right, I’d be like, “Yes! I am smart! These other idiots don’t know how much the crabs weigh.” But I do. Because I just spent Saturday working it out.

I solved puzzles like this, too. I don’t know if they made me feel smart, but I enjoyed the way I felt when I figured out a particularly tough one.

From the way he describes it, such puzzles may have had the same effect on both of us.

Whatever the reason, I spent a lot of time as a kid doing these puzzle books. And it came to shape the way I see the world. So now, as an adult, I see the world in those terms. For example, to me a phone number is always a sentence or an equation. Like my friend Becky…

He goes on to say that he remembers Becky’s phone number using a convoluted, mathematical mnemonic:

Beckys Number

That is, he converts the first three digits into an expression that is equal to an expression formed by the last four digits. He concludes that it’s “much simpler,” but it’s unclear how.

Now that’s some crazy, messed-up sh*t.

And I’d probably think it even weirder… if I didn’t do it, too.

One night many years ago, my roommate Adam asked for the number of the local pizza shop. I replied, “33, 13, 203,” because that’s how I saw it. Adam looked at me like I was nuts, and he was probably onto something.

My friend AJ’s street address is 6236, which I remember as 62 = 36.

My street address growing up was 1331, which I associated with the third row of Pascal’s triangle. (It also happens to be 113, but I didn’t know that at the time.)

I chose the four digits of my PIN because… no, wait, that wouldn’t be prudent.

My co-worker Julia’s extension is 2691. I used to remember this as 2 + 6 = 9 – 1, until I recognized a more elegant geometric mnemonic: the sequence 2, 6, 9, 1 forms an isosceles trapezoid on my office phone’s keypad — or it would, were the buttons equally spaced.


I can’t explain why I do this. Perhaps, as Demetri says, it’s the influence of all those puzzle books. Or maybe it’s just that the mental conversion to an equation gives the number meaning, making it more memorable. Or perhaps it’s that I’m wired to see the world through a mathematical lens, despite not wearing glasses.

Larry McCleary, author of The Brain Trust Program, claims that numbers are difficult to remember because “most of us don’t have any emotional attachment to particular numbers.” Mr. McCleary, I’d like you to meet my friend Demetri…

Demitri and I are both into anagrams.

Even when I walk down the street, things look a little different. The signs… the letters dance around. It becomes a little puzzle for me. So, say MOBIL, the gas station — that becomes LIMBO. STARBUCKS becomes RACKS BUST. CAR PHONE WAREHOUSE… AH, ONE SOUR CRAP — WHEE!”

Yeah, I do that, too…


My first car was a CHEVROLET IMPALA, which transforms to COMPARATIVE HELL. Our neighbor’s son is CARSON, whom I jokingly call ACORNS. And I can’t see a STOP sign without also thinking of OPTS, POST, POTS, and TOPS.

If you’re reading this, you likely have some things in common with Demetri, too. What number mnemonics do you use, or what anagrams to do you see?

May 25, 2016 at 8:27 am Leave a comment


In case you missed it, the following mathy challenge was presented by Will Shortz as the NPR Sunday Puzzle on February 28:

Find two eight-letter terms from math that are anagrams of one another. One is a term from geometry; the other is from calculus. What are the two words?

Will ShortzThe irony of this puzzle (for me) appearing on that particular Sunday is that five days later, I delivered the keynote presentation for the Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference, and I had included the answer to this puzzle as one of my slides. I wasn’t trying to present an answer to the NPR Puzzle; I was merely showing the two words as an example of an anagram. The following week, Will Shortz presented the answer as part of the NPR Sunday Puzzle on March 6.

Slide from My Presentation
(aka, the answer)

What I particularly enjoyed about the March 6 segment was the on-air puzzle presented by Shortz. He’d give a category, and you’d then have to name something in the category starting with each of the letters W, I, N, D, and S.

I’ve always heard that good teachers borrow, great teachers steal. So I am going to blatantly pilfer Shortz’s idea, then give it a mathy twist.

I’ll give you a series of categories. For each one, name something in that category starting with each of the letters of M, A, T, and H. For instance, if the category were State Capitals, then you might answer Madison, Atlanta, Topeka, and Harrisburg. Any answer that works is fine. But for many of the categories, you’ll earn bonus points for mathy variations. For instance, if the bonus rule were “+1 for each state capital that has the same number of letters as its state,” then you’d get two points for Atlanta (Georgia) and Topeka (Kansas), but only one point for Madison (Wisconsin) and Harrisburg (Pennsylvania).

There are nine categories listed below, and the maximum possible score if all bonuses were earned would be 79 points. I’ve listed my best answers at the bottom of this post, which yielded a score of 62 points. Can you beat it? Post your score in the comments.

Want to play this game with friends or students?
Download the PDF version.


Movie Titles
(+1 for a math movie)
M _____
A _____
T _____
H _____

Historical Figures
(+1 if the person is a mathematician or scientist)
M _____
A _____
T _____
H _____

(+1 if the game is mathematical)
M _____
A _____
T _____
H _____

School Subjects
(+1 for mathematical subjects)
M _____
A _____
T _____
H _____

Words with One-Word Anagrams
(+1 if it’s a math term)
M _____
A _____
T _____
H _____

Words Containing the Letter “Q”
(+1 if it’s a math term)
M _____
A _____
T _____
H _____

Math Terms
(+3 if all four terms are related, loosely defined as “could be found in the same chapter of a math book”)
M _____
A _____
T _____
H _____

Words Containing the Letters M, A, T, and H
(+1 if the letters appear in order, though not necessarily consecutively; +2 if consecutive)
M _____
A _____
T _____
H _____

Words with a Single-Digit Number Word Inside Them
(such as asinine, but -1 if the number word is actually used numerically, such as fourths; +2 if the single-digit number is split across two or more syllables)
M _____
A _____
T _____
H _____


The following are my answers for each category.

Movie Titles
Moebius, Antonia’s Line, Travelling Salesman, (A) Hill on the Dark Side of the Moon
(8 points)

Historical Figures
Mandelbrot, Archimedes, Turing, Hypatia
(4 points)

Mancala, Angels and Devils, Tic-Tac-Toe, Hex
(8 points)

School Subjects
Mathematics, Algebra, Trigonometry, History
(7 points)

Words with One-Word Anagrams
mode (dome), angle (glean), triangle (integral), heptagon (pathogen)
(8 points)

Words Containing the Letter “Q”
manque, aliquot, triquetrous, harlequin
(6 points)

Math Terms
median, altitude, triangle, hypotenuse
(7 points)

Words Containing the Letters M, A, T, and H
tch, aromatherapy, thematic, homeopathic
(8 points)

Words with a Single-Digit Number Word Inside Them
mezzanine, artwork, tone, height
(6 points)

March 25, 2016 at 1:46 pm Leave a comment

How Dumb Are You?

How Smart Are YouI recently purchased the book How Smart Are You? Test Your IQ for the same reason that I always purchase books like this — often, there are one or two gems buried amid a pile of mundane, mind-numbing questions.

Having just finished the last quiz, here’s all you need to know about this book:

  • I found it on the discount table at Barnes and Noble.
  • There is a picture of a wise, all-knowing owl on the front cover. (Ooh, an owl! I feel smart already!)
  • The tag line on the cover reads, “Calculate Your IQ in Minutes,” yet the Introduction states, “Your scores will not reflect your actual intelligence.”

When it comes to measuring your IQ using this book, the following scale will be more effective than anything you’ll find between the covers:

Did You Buy this Book?
  IQ Score  
Bought < 75
Didn’t > 125

The book contains 50 quizzes with 10 questions each. Each question is worth 16.5 points, so your IQ is found by multiplying the number correct on a given quiz by 16.5.

I hate to deliver the bad news.
The results of your IQ test have come back negative.

Sadly, there were no gems among the 500 questions in the book. (Honestly, I found it more difficult to calculate my score than to answer most of the questions.) Yet there were quite a few duds. And that’s where we’ll start today’s story.

One question asked the reader to identify the next number in the series:

5, 13, 21, 29, 37, 44, …

You may notice that 5 + 8 = 13, 13 + 8 = 21, and 21 + 8 = 29, so you might think that the rule is “add 8.” But 37 + 8 ≠ 44, so the pattern fails. You don’t even need to check the addition, though; since the first term is odd and the common difference is even, all terms must be odd. The number 44 should have stuck out like a sore thumb to any editor worth his salt. Yet that did not stop the author from listing 44 + 8 = 52 as the correct answer.

Similarly, another problem asked:

A high school has 40 students in its senior class. Forty percent of the seniors are taking physics, 30 percent are taking chemistry, and 10 percent are taking neither. How many seniors are taking neither physics or chemistry? (Ed. note: emphasis added.)

You might first think that 4 students are taking neither physics nor chemistry (nevermind that the problem used or instead of nor), since the problem says that 10% are taking neither, and 10% of 40 is 4. Upon seeing the correct answer listed as 16 students, you might then think, “What the f**k?” And that would be a justifiable reaction. I suspect that this was meant to be one of those questions where the numbers in the three groups adds to more than 100%, so the overlap becomes important, but this problem is an epic fail as presented.

Some people should have to pass an IQ test
to drive or reproduce. Fail the test,
you get birth control and a bus pass.

A little later, on a quiz titled “Unscramble the Letters I,” readers were directed to unscramble the letters


to create an English word or name.

The Internet Anagram Server says that there are three: field, filed, flied. Finding one of them without the Internet seems like a reasonable challenge. But within the book, the problem is presented as a multiple-choice question:defil - AnagramOh, my. Anyone smart enough to read a book would see immediately that fled doesn’t have enough letters, flies has an s instead of the requisite d, and delight has too many letters. How many people have been misled by this quiz, scoring a 165 and then thinking that they were Harvard material?

My favorite in this section, though, was the scrambled-letter collection


which I immediately recognized to be pterodactyl, but then thought, “No, wait, there’s no o.” Yet pterodactyl was the only reasonable option among the four answer choices (Pericles, lethargic, pterodactyl, and pictogram), so I ignored the omission and collected another perfect score of 165. (Yay, me!)

As I said above, there were no gems, but I’ll end with the only problem in the entire book that I even mildly enjoyed:

A car traveled 281 miles in 4 hours and 41 minutes. What was the car’s average speed in miles per hour?

This one was also presented as a multiple-choice question, but it’s more fun to solve without the options. Have at it.

Savage Chickens IQ Test

March 2, 2016 at 5:19 am 2 comments

Word + Letter = Math Term

AnagramOn a recent Sunday Puzzle on NPR, Will Shortz gave a letter and a word, and the contestant was to guess the name of a popular TV show using an anagram of the letters (“Coming to TV This Fall: Anagrams,” Oct 12, 2014). For instance,


gave the answer


This struck me as an interesting puzzle format. My only criticism is that it just wasn’t mathy enough.

But I’m not a problem maker, I’m a problem solver… so rather than cast aspersions at the puzzle, I’ll instead use the format to offer my own version.

Each of the 26 letters of the alphabet has been paired with a common English word. An anagram of the pair will yield a common math word. How many can you find?

  1. A + ERA
  2. B + AGLARE
  3. C + BITES
  4. D + NOTICER
  5. E + EDGERS
  6. F + SAUCER
  7. G + LEAN
  9. I + TANGLER
  11. K + SEW
  12. L + POSE
  13. M + RIPS
  14. N + AIMED
  15. O + PINT
  16. P + MYRIAD
  17. Q + AURES
  18. R + ENVIES
  19. S + RECITED
  20. T + HAM
  21. U + RAIDS
  22. V + EXERT
  23. W + ROPE
  24. X + SEA
  26. Z + ORE

I don’t believe in providing an answer key, but you can find some help at Math Words, and you can click over to More Words if you run into real trouble. But give it the old college try before seeking assistance. Honestly, you’ll feel better about yourself if you solve these on your own.

October 31, 2014 at 7:10 am Leave a comment

Games My Brain Plays

The French Quarter Festival and the NCTM Annual Meeting took place concurrently in New Orleans last week. So following five days of spectacular conversations and presentations at the conference, I headed to the festival for stage after stage of live music.

I sat on the lawn in Woldenberg Park, and the woman next to me was movin’ and groovin’ to the sounds of The Dixie Cups. I introduced myself, and she replied, “Hi, I’m Rhonda.” And the first thought that went through my head was…

Hard-on is an anagram of Rhonda.

What the hell’s the matter with me?

If you’re looking for a silver lining here — and believe me, I am — it’s that there are no other one-word anagrams of Rhonda. So at least I didn’t ignore a more socially appropriate anagram and jump straight into the blue.

But you have to wonder why that happened at all, instead of just accepting her name at face value and politely, automatically responding, “Nice to meet you.”

My mind has played games for as long as I can remember, often without my consent. The following are a list of some of them:

  • Playing License Plate Algebra with the letters and digits on a license plate. For instance, if a Pennsylvania license plate has TFT to the left of the keystone and 567 to the right, and the keystone is then replaced by an equal sign, and some simplifying is done, this reduces to T2F = 567, and I search for order pairs (T, F) that make that equation true.
  • Riding in a car, I’ll pick a speck of dirt on the window and pretend that it’s a laser/bomb/WMD. As I ride along, anything that the speck appears to touch while I look out the window is destroyed instantly.
  • Sometimes, I’ll try to figure out what I’d do if a normal, daily event turned into a life-threatening situation (like this).
  • Eating M&M’s two-by-two, one for each side of my mouth. (See my ruminations about a quest to find The Perfect Pack.)
  • Having to step on an equal number of cracks with each foot, when walking on the sidewalk through our neighborhood.
  • While playing basketball and other sports, getting fixated on a word — say, precise — and when I’m not dribbling or shooting, I’m finding anagrams of the word in my head, or I’ll start to combine pieces of letters — for instance, a c and an i without its dot could be used to form an a — so now I try to make anagrams of p, r, e, a, s, and e. And sure enough, I’ll stumble onto serape. But that’s not good enough. I’ll then return to precise, combine the r and i to make an n, and now I’ll look for anagrams of p, n, e, c, s, and e. There are none, so I’ll spend the rest of the game in a futile mental search. And two seconds after I convince myself that there are none to be found, the buzzer sounds, and I realize our basketball team has suffered its seventh straight double-digit loss. The defeat wasn’t entirely my fault, but my distractedness surely didn’t help matters, either.

What stupid games does your mind play?

April 21, 2014 at 4:27 pm Leave a comment

Math Name Scramble

When you scramble the letters of “Math Name Scramble,” several excellent anagram-cum-headlines are formed. The results are just too spectacular not to have a little fun.

Lambs Cheat Merman
Schenectady, New York – Maybe she’s got rhythm, but Ethel Merman appears to be lacking in street smarts. When three young, corrupt sheep tempted her with a game of three-card monte, she should have politely declined. But she was insistent that identifying the proper card “shouldn’t be that difficult.” Fourteen failed attempts and $650 later, she finally accepted defeat. The ovine dealer, amused by Ms. Merman’s persistence, continually told her, “I get a kick out of you.”

Math, Camels, Barmen
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – A mathematician and a camel walk into a bar. The barman says, “What is this, some kind of joke?”

Okay, enough of that silliness.

Lots of math words have interesting anagrams:

  • scalene = cleanse
  • thousand = handouts
  • vector = covert
  • algorithm = logarithm
  • decimal point = I’m a pencil dot
  • integral calculus = calculating rules
  • innumerable = a number line

If you like anagrams, the following puzzle might be right up your alley.

The last names of ten famous mathematicians — all sufficiently scrambled, of course — are listed below.


Your task is to unscramble the names, then place them in the rows of the grid below. If you place the correct names in the correct order, another famous mathematician’s name will appear in the highlighted column.

Name Scramble GridStumped? Don’t sweat it; lesser men have had to look at the solution, too.

May 25, 2013 at 9:51 pm 2 comments

Unique Words

Using Scrabble® tiles, my sons were making anagrams. One would select four tiles, and the other would have to rearrange them to form a word.

Scrabble - AHMT

This struck me as interesting, so I posed the following question to them:

Take four consecutive letters from the alphabet, and rearrange them to form a common English word.

How many solutions do you think there are? Before you solve the problem, take a guess. Can five words be formed from four consecutive letters? Maybe ten words? Or fifteen?

Okay, now solve the problem. Take your time. We’ll wait for you.

There are 23 ways to select four consecutive letters, and each set of four letters can be arranged in 4! = 24 ways. With 23 × 24 = 552 possibilities, it seems like there ought to be several solutions.

Were you as surprised as I was to find that there was only one?

But maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised. Lots of things in life are unique…

Always remember that you’re unique, just like everybody else.

Student: Do you believe in God?
Professor: Yes — up to isomorphism!

Then again, lots of things aren’t unique…

Don’t think you’re special. Even if you’re 1 in a million, there are still 7,000 people in the world just like you.

Here are two unique, non-math jokes…

How do you catch a unique rabbit?
Unique up on it.

How do you catch a tame rabbit?
The tame way!

November 13, 2011 at 11:01 pm 1 comment

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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.

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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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