Posts tagged ‘games’

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

Using Dynamic Paper to Make Math Game Boards

While exploring hexagon patterns last night, Eli suggested, “Let’s play Dots and Boxes using hexagons instead of squares.” Well, now, that’s an inspired idea! So I used the Dynamic Paper tool from Illuminations to create isometric dot paper. The boys then played Dots and Triangles, actually — hexagons would work, but you’d have to remove some of the dots — and Alex narrowly edged Eli.

Dots + Triangles - Alex & Eli

I am continually blown away by the power of Dynamic Paper. Suggested by a participant at the 2009 Illuminations Summer Institute and built by Math Resources, this tool does it all —

  • Need the net of an icosahedron whose sides are exactly 0.58 inches? Yep, Dynamic Paper can do that. And it’ll generate a printable 8.5″ × 11″ PDF of the net that you can cut out, fold up, and tape together.
  • Need graph paper with trig coordinates, going from ‑2π to 2π on the x-axis, with axis tick marks starting at ‑π and appearing every 2π/3 units? Well, sure, it’ll look crazy as hell… but if that’s what you want, Dynamic Paper aims to please.
  • Need a tessellation of hexagons? It can do that, too, but first you have to decide if you want a Type I, Type II, or Type III tessellation. What’s that, you didn’t know there were three different types of hexagon tessellations? No worries. Dynamic Paper can make all three types, and it won’t even stick out its tongue at you while it creates them.

It also does attribute blocks, spinners, number lines, isometric dot paper, and a million other things. But I don’t have the time to list them all. Just go check it out.

Dynamic Paper

The following are instructions for five different math games you can play, using game boards that you can create with Dynamic Paper.

Dots and Triangles. Go to Graph Paper → Isometric Dot Paper. Pick the number of rows, columns, and distance between dots, then click Add. Press Download PDF, and print it. The game is played with players connecting two dots with a straight line. If a player draws a line that forms a small equilateral triangle, that players puts her initial (or some other distinguishing mark) inside the triangle to claim it. In general, players alternate turns, but if you make a line that completes a triangle, you get another turn, which can often lead to four, five, six, or more triangles being created by a player on one turn. See the rules for Dots and Boxes for more information.

Hex. Go to Tessellations → Build Your Own → Hexagons (Type I, II or III). Make the tessellation as wild as you like, then click Add. Adjust the tessellation so that there are the same number of hexagons vertically and horizontally. Then play Hex, with one player trying to form an unbroken line of hexagons from top to bottom, and the other trying to form an unbroken line of hexagons from one side to the other. (Decide who’s trying for a vertical or horizontal line before play begins.) Players then alternately choose one of the hexagons and claim it by placing an initial in the hexagon. First one to form an unbroken line wins.

  • Sample Hex Game Board (PDF)
    Note: This board is 8 hexagons tall but only 7 hexagons wide, so the player trying to connect top to bottom should go first.

Make 12. Go to Graph Paper → Grid Paper, choose the number of rows and columns, and then enter the same value for the row height and column width. Players then alternately create rectangles with an area of 12 square units. The last player to place a rectangle wins. For variations, use a different size rectangle, or play that the last player to place a rectangle loses.

Secret Number. Okay, you don’t really need a board game for this one, but a board can be useful to keep track of numbers that have been eliminated. With Dynamic Paper, go to Number Grids, and you can make a grid of numbers from m to n, where m and n can have any values you like. For young kids, I use a hundreds board, but why not try a grid with numbers from 38 to 73 with six numbers in each column? To play, one player secretly chooses a number, then the other player(s) ask questions such as, “Is the number odd or even?”, “Is the units digit a 5?” or any other yes-no question. The only yes-no question not allowed is, “Is __ your number?”

Polar Coordinate Battleship. Just like regular battleship, but for older kids. Go to Graph Paper → Polar Coordinates, then set your parameters. Have each player place one ship each of length 2, 3, 4, and 5 units. (Some people allow ships to be placed on a curve. I think that’s unacceptable except for the 2‑unit ship, but you can play however you like.)

What math games do you play? Can Dynamic Paper be used to create the game boards for any of your favorite math games?

March 25, 2013 at 8:52 pm Leave a comment

26 Vowel Creatures

“Alex,” I said, “on our walk to the gym tonight, I have a game for you and Eli to play.”

Alex responded, “Daddy, you have a lot of games.”

Yeah, it’s true.

Earlier in the afternoon, I played a game with them that I had created. On a set of index cards I had written animal names, with one catch: All of the vowels were removed. So instead of DOG, the card had DG, and instead of ZEBRA, the card had ZBR. You get the idea.

Before we started playing, I told them an elaborate tale about how I had tried to write animal names on index cards, but the Vowel Thief kept stealing the vowels from me. At the end of my story, Eli asked, “Did he steal all the vowels, or just some of them?” A-ha, the ruse worked! Amazing how easy it is to pull the wool over a four-year-old’s eyes. (As I explained the game, I also mentioned that “it’ll be like reading from the Torah.” Sadly, my best joke of the day, but it fell on the deaf ears of the wrong audience.)

Here’s my list of vowel-less animals, roughly in order from easiest to hardest. Good luck.

  • BFFL
  • CHTH
  • PRPS
  • KNGR
  • RCCN
  • GZLL
  • GRLL
  • GRFF
  • CGR
  • WHL
  • LLM
  • FRRT
  • LPRD
  • PND
  • MNK
  • TDPL
  • NTTR
  • TTR
  • GN
  • MS

April 10, 2012 at 8:59 pm Leave a comment

My 5 Favorite Math Games

I’ve been thinking about games a lot recently. I’ve been reading The Multiplayer Classroom, in which Lee Sheldon describes his experience turning a college class into a multiplayer game. Students earn experience points (XP) and progress through levels; the grade a student receives at the end of the course reflects the level reached in the game. Awesome concept!

My sons have recently been playing a math game that my friend Barb Dougherty calls “Sums and Products.” I prefer the name given to it by Constance Kamii: Salute. The latter name captures the action performed by players, raising a card to their foreheads.

Here. Watch for yourself.

I like the game well enough, because my kids get to practice addition and multiplication facts in a non-routine way. But I much prefer games that teach new concepts rather than just reinforce things they already know.

So, a question for you:

What’s your favorite math game?

Here’s my top five.

1. Sprouts. Yeah, I know… how cliché, right? But I can’t help myself. It’s just a great game.

2. Pig. Players roll a pair of dice. On each turn, you can roll the dice as many times as you want, and you can stop whenever you want. Your score for that turn is the sum of all the rolls. However, if you roll a 1 on either die, you get 0 points for that turn; and if you roll double 1’s, your total score for the entire game returns to 0. First player to reach 100 points wins. How daring are you?

3. Ker-Splash. This is one of the games at Calculation Nation®, a suite of math strategy games from NCTM. My co-worker Julia Zurkovsky designed the game, and I still think it’s the best game on the site.


4. Theseus and the Minotaur. I don’t know, perhaps this isn’t really a math game. But it’s too damned addictive not to include on this list. How addictive is it, you ask? In the middle of writing this post, I jumped to another tab to find the link to the game. It was 55 minutes before I returned to finish this post. Damn you, Toby Nelson!

5. Deep Sea Duel. This game goes by many names. If you can figure out its most common name, you’ll have no trouble winning. The answer can be found in the article “What’s the Name of this Game?” by John Mahoney, which originally appeared in the October 2005 issue of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School.

March 4, 2012 at 9:06 pm 1 comment

NCTM Annual Meeting — San Diego

The NCTM Annual Meeting will be held April 21-24 in San Diego. On behalf of the Council, I’ll be presenting the following sessions:

  • Math Joke (Half) Hour
    Wednesday, April 21, 2:30-3:00pm; Convention Center, Room 6E
    (if there’s enough interest, this session will be repeated at 3:15pm in the same room)
  • Online Math Strategy Games for the Middle School Curriculum
    Saturday, April 24, 8:30-10:00am; Convention Center, Room 15A

When not presenting, I’ll be hanging out in the Cyber Cafe (within the exhibit hall), telling folks about all the great classroom resources they can find at Illuminations and Calculation NationTM. Stop by to say hello — and to tell me your favorite math joke!

April 16, 2010 at 12:24 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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