Posts tagged ‘license’

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

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


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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