Posts tagged ‘math’

College Basketball Round-Up

Sam SheepdogThe sheepdog returned to the farmhouse and told the shepherd, “All 200 sheep have been returned to their pens.”

“200?” asked the shepherd. “But we only have 196 sheep.”

The dog replied, “Well, yeah, but you know I like to round up.”

Rounding up has been a topic of conversation in college basketball this week.

Marcus Keene, a guard for the Central Michigan Chippewas, scored 959 points in 32 games this season, giving him a points-per-game (PPG) average of 30.0.

Sort of.

Technically, his average is 29.96875, just shy of the highly coveted 30 points-per-game mark that’s only been attained by a few dozen players in NCAA history. Since 1981, only 8 players have reached 30 PPG, most recently Long Island’s Charles Jones in 1996‑97.

Marcus Keene

Photo: Carlos Osorio, AP

But the controversy swirled this week because Keene didn’t actually average more than 30 points per game. He was one point shy. His lofty accomplishment was nothing more than smoke-and-mirrors due to round-off error, or so the critics say.

Per-game statistics are used to compare players with one another, because totals can’t be compared for players who have played a different number of games. And let’s face it, no one wants to get into the habit of comparing per-game stats to seven decimal places. The NCAA reports all per-game statistics to the nearest tenth, and the truth is that Keene’s PPG average would be reported as 30.0, 30.00, 30.000, and 30.0000 if rounded to tenths, hundredths, thousandths, and ten-thousandths, respectively.

It’s been a good year for math and basketball. Anthony Davis can have an asterisk for his record-setting 52 points in the NBA All-Star Game because no one played defense; and now Marcus Keene can have an asterisk for his 30.0 points-per-game average.

In related news, it was reported that 53% of men say that they will watch the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship (aka, “March Madness”). And just to prove the men are the dumber sex, 61% of them admitted that they’ll watch while at work. Simple math says that 32.3% of men will watch the tourney at work. Which means that if you’re a man with two friends who don’t like basketball, then you’ll be the one killing office productivity next Thursday.

NCAA Final Four Logo 2017

March 10, 2017 at 9:36 pm 1 comment

2 Good 2 Be True

I was eating a bowl of shepherd’s pie at the Irish pub in our neighborhood. A man walks up to my table and asks, “What’s your favorite number?”

“Uh, 153,” I respond.

“And 153 × 2 is 306,” he says, then hurriedly scurries away.

He approaches another table, asks another patron for her favorite number, and again multiplies it by 2. He does this over and over, popping from table to table, annoying customer after customer. Eventually, the manager notices this eccentric behavior and approaches the man.

“Sir,” says the manager, “You can’t keep interrupting people’s dinners by asking them for a number and then multiplying by 2.”

“What can I say,” he responds. “I love Dublin!”

A little while later, the gentleman at the table next to me says to his companion, “I know a sure-fire way to double your money.”

This piqued my interest, so I leaned over to eavesdrop on his advice.

“Fold it in half,” he said.

Dismayed that you’ve read this far and have only heard two terrible jokes? Well, buck up, because your fortune is about to change. I can’t help you double your money, but I can help you get twice as much for it.

Perhaps you’ve been wanting a copy of Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, but just haven’t pulled the trigger yet. Well, now’s the time. Robert D. Reed Publishers is offering a BOGO special for MJ4MF, so now you can buy a copy for yourself at regular price and get another for the special math geek in your life at no charge!

And check this out.

  • If you buy 2 copies, you’ll get 2 additional copies absolutely free!
  • If you buy 3 copies, you’ll get 3 more at no cost!
  • Buy 4 copies, and 8 copies will be delivered to your door!
  • And if you buy 50 copies? Why, you’ll have 100 copies arrive to your home, office, or post office box for the exact same price!
  • If you want n copies, you’ll only pay for n/2 of them!

Folks, this is a linear relationship that you’d be foolish to ignore!

January 16, 2017 at 10:56 am 1 comment

NBA, Discovery, and the Math of Basketball

Last week, Discovery Education and the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced a partnership in which real-time data from will flow into Math Techbook, and students will use that data to solve problems.

How cool is that?

Eighty students from John Hayden Johnson Middle School in Washington, DC, participated in the event, which was emceed by Hall-of-Famer “Big” Bob Lanier and made silly by Washington Wizards mascot G-Wiz.


G-Wiz and students at John Hayden Johnson Middle School in Washington, DC, at a joint event of the NBA and Discovery Education.

The event received a lot of press coverage, and as you may have heard, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But one of the articles quoted me as saying:

It’s not like a beautiful, traditional math problem.

That is not what I said. I am absolutely certain that I have never used the words beautiful and traditional in the same sentence. Well, perhaps when referring to a wedding dress or an Irish cottage, maybe, but certainly not when referring to a math problem.

I was also quoted as saying:

It’s going to be messy, for sure.

That is, in fact, one of the things I did say. Because by definition, good math problems are messy. For this project, our writing team created problems that don’t have one right answer. For instance, one problem asks students to generate a formula to predict which players should be on the All‑NBA 1st Team. Should they use points and rebounds as part of their formula? If so, how much weight should they give to each? And should there be a deduction for the number of turnovers a player has? All of that is up to the student, and it’s certainly possible that more than one formula would give reasonable results. (If you don’t believe me, do a search for NBA Efficiency, TENDEX, Thibodeau, VORP, or New SPM to get a sense of some formulas currently used by professional statisticians.)

A microsite with a four sample problems is available at To see all 16 problems and to experience the NBA Math Tool, you’ll need to login to Math Techbook; sign up for a 60‑day trial at

I’m ecstatic about the problems that our writing team — which includes folks who love both math and basketball, like Brenan Bardige, Ellen Clay, Chris Shore, Shauna Hedgepeth, Katie Rhee, Jen Silverman, and Jason Slowbe — has created. One of the simpler problems they’ve written, meant for middle school students, is to determine which player should take a technical free throw. It’s not a hard problem, but students get to choose which team(s) to examine and how to use free-throw data to make their choice. With the NBA Math Tool that we’ve created, which includes FTM and FTA but not FT%, one possible formula is =ROUND(100*FTM/FTA,1), which will display the free-throw percentage to one decimal place of accuracy — though there are certainly less sophisticated formulas that will get the job done, too, and students could bypass formulas entirely by using equivalent fractions.

But a different article said that the “questions may look something like” this:

Andrew Wiggins is making 49.1% of his two-point shots and 52.3% of his threes. Which shot is he more likely to make?

Actually, we would never ask a question like this in Math Techbook, either as part of this NBA project or otherwise. By the time students start working with percentages in middle school (6.RPA.3.C), we expect that they already understand how to compare decimals (4.NF.C.7). Though basic exercises are included in the service, most problems — and especially those based on NBA data — exist at a greater depth of knowledge.

But what we might do is ask students to use proportions to make a prediction.

As you know, basketball announcers and sportswriters make predictions all the time. They talk about players being “on pace” to score some number of points or to grab a certain number of rebounds. In fact, the Washington Post recently prophesied that Steph Curry will hold the NBA’s all-time three-point record before the next presidential election.

During the first part of the event at Johnson Middle School, the students set out to make a prediction:

How many assists will John Wall finish the season with?

John Wall recently set the Wizards franchise record for assists, so the context was timely.

To solve this problem, students explored the NBA Math Tool, which now resides inside Math Techbook. This tool allows students to analyze both NBA and WNBA stats. Students considered data for the Washington Wizards:

Wizards Stats - NBA Tool

Row 6 shows that John Wall had 98 assists through 11 games. Good information, to be sure, but it led to more questions from students than answers:

  • Some players on the Wizards have played 13 games. How many games have the Wizards played so far this year?
  • How many games will John Wall play this year?
  • How many games are in an NBA season?

Looking at team data in the NBA Math Tool, students learned that the Wizards have played 13 games so far this year. And one student knew that every NBA team plays 82 games in a season. Good info… but now what?

One approach is to set up a proportion with the equation

\frac{11}{13} = \frac{g}{82}

which yields the number of games (g) that we can expect John to play this year (69), and then the equation

\frac{11}{69} = \frac{98}{a}

can be used to find the number of assists (a) that we can expect John to record (602).

But the eighty students in the gym were sixth- and seventh-graders, and they weren’t ready for algebraic equations. Instead, they attacked the problem by noting that Wall had 98 assists through the first 13 games, so they estimated:

  • He should have about 200 assists through 25 games.
  • He’d have about 400 assists through 50 games.
  • He’d have about 600 assists through 75 games.
  • That’s 7 games shy of a full 82‑game season, and Wall should have about 50 assists in 7 games.
  • So, we can expect him to finish the season with about 650 assists.

My role at the event was to lead students through the solution as a group-problem solving activity; and then, to work with them in the media center on the free-throw problem described above. It was an incredible day! I got to co-teach with Ivory Latta, point guard for the Washington Mystics:

Latta Vennebush Math

I got to meet some incredible people, including current players, former players, and NBA executives:

NBA Launch Event

(L to R) Etan Thomas; Felipe Lopez; Patrick Vennebush, MJ4MF and Discovery Education; Bill Goodwyn, President and CEO of Discovery Education; Ivory Latta, Washington Mystics point guard; Elizabeth Lipscomb, Discovery Education; Todd Jacobson, Sr. VP of Social Responsibility, NBA; and “Big” Bob Lanier, Hall-of-Fame player for the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks.

But most importantly, I was finally able to let the world know about this amazing project, which my team has been working on for a year.

The NBA slogan is, This is why we play. But today I say, this is why we work: to develop rich curriculum resources that are fun, relevant, and powerful in teaching kids math.


November 26, 2016 at 6:24 am Leave a comment

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.


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

Math of the Rundetaarn

RundetaarnAs we were exiting the Rundetaarn (“Round Tower”) in Copenhagen, Denmark, I noticed a man wearing a shirt with the following quotation:

Find what you love, and let it kill you.

The only problem is that the shirt attributed the quotation to poet Charles Bukowski, when apparently it should have been attributed to humorist Kinky Friedman. For what it’s worth, my favorite Friedman quote is, “I just want Texas to be number one in something other than executions, toll roads, and property taxes.” But this ain’t a post about Kinky Friedman, or even Charles Bukowski. So, allow me to pull off the sidewalk and get back on the boulevard.

Whoever said it, the quotation hit me as drastically appropriate. I suspect that math will someday kill me… likely as I cross the street while playing KenKen on my phone, oblivious to an oncoming truck. As I exited the Rundetaarn, I was thinking about all the math that I had seen inside — much of which, I suspect, would not have been seen by many of the other tourists.

The Rundetaarn, completed in 1642, is known for the 7.5-turn helical ramp that visitors can walk to the top of the tower and, coincidentally, to one helluva view of the city. Rundetaarn Cross SectionThat leads to Question #1.

Along the outer wall of the tower, the winding corridor has a length of 210 meters, climbing 3.74 meters per turn. What is the (inside) diameter of the tower?

Above Trinitatis Church is a gift shop that is accessible from the Rundetaarn’s spiral corridor. The following clock was hanging on the wall in that little shop:

Rundetaarn clock

I have no idea who the bust is, but the clock leads to Question #2.

What sequence of geometric transformations were required to convert a regular clock into this clock?

And to Question #3.

Do the hands on this clock spin clockwise or counterclockwise?

And to Question #3a.

What is the “error” on the clock?

A privy accessible from the spiral corridor in the Rundetaarn has been preserved like a museum exhibit. Sadly, I have no picture of it to share, but a sign next to the privy implied that the feces deposited by a friar would fall 12 meters into the pit below.

That leads to Question #4.

What is the terminal velocity of a deposit when it reaches the bottom of the pit? (Or should that be “turd-minal velocity”?)

The first respondent to correctly answer all of these questions will earn inalienable bragging rights for perpetuity.

August 11, 2016 at 8:31 am Leave a comment

How Wide and How Deep?

In 2002, William Schmidt described the U.S. math curriculum as “a mile wide, an inch deep,” and it’s been bugging the sh*t out of me ever since.

I mean, I get what he and his co-authors were saying: The curriculum contains too many topics, so they can’t be covered with sufficient depth.

But if a mile is too wide and an inch is too shallow, then what dimensions would be appropriate?

One-inch wide and a mile deep would be problematic, too. That’d be like spending an entire year teaching kids to count to 10.

I suppose we could opt for a square curriculum instead. A curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep has an area of 5,280 × 1/12 = 440 square feet, so the conversion would look something like this, with the thin line representing a mile by an inch and the square representing 21 feet by 21 feet:


Sorry, it’s not to scale because of space limitations.

The square curriculum doesn’t feel quite right, either. The only way I know to make this problem tractable is to look at data.

In the late 1990’s, I was a standards weenie. I was fascinated by the variety from state to state. Because I didn’t have a girlfriend (and ostensibly didn’t want one, either), I would read state standards documents for fun. At the time Schmidt coined his phrase, Florida had more than 80 standards in each grade, and Utah subjected students to over 130 standards each year. As I recall, the average state had more than 100 standards at each grade level.

Today, Common Core represents a significant reduction in the number of standards. There are approximately 30 standards per grade for K‑8, and closer to 40 standards per course in high school.

Which means that if the curriculum used to be a mile wide, then the current curriculum is closer to ⅓ × 5,280 = 1,760 feet wide.

But if it’s ⅓ as wide, then it needs to be 3 times as deep. Which means the current curriculum is 1,760 feet wide by 3 inches deep, so it looks something like this:


Doesn’t feel like much of an improvement, does it? And the phrase “3 inches deep” doesn’t inspire confidence that the curriculum now has the depth it needs.

So, I give up. I don’t know what the proper dimensions ought to be. I just know that Schmidt’s phrase was hyperbole for dramatic effect, and it worked.

What do you think are the proper dimensions of the math curriculum?

Here’s a puzzle about width and depth:

How much dirt is in a hole that measures 4¾ feet × 5¼ feet?

And I know a joke about width, but you need to be able to read CSS:

.yomama {
width: 99999999px;


August 4, 2016 at 4:11 am 3 comments

3 Questions to Determine if You’re a Math Geek

Cooley and KevinYesterday morning on Cooley and Kevin, a local sports radio show, the hosts and producer each posited three questions that could be used to determine if someone is a real man. (The implication being, if you can’t answer all three, then you ain’t.) I didn’t like that many of the questions focused on sports, but I’m not surprised. I was, however, surprised by some of the non-sports questions. What do you think?

Thom Loverro (guest host):

  • Who wrote The Old Man and The Sea?
  • What was the name of the bar owned by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca?
  • Name three heavyweight boxing champions.

Kevin Sheehan (regular host):

  • Who was Clark Kent’s alter ego?
  • Name one of the two fighters in the “Thrilla in Manila.”
  • Who won the first Super Bowl?

Greg Hough (producer):

  • Name one James Bond movie and the actor who played James Bond in it.
  • Who did Rocky beat to win the title?
  • With what team did Brett Favre win a Super Bowl?

During the rounds of trivia, Loverro remarked, “If you can name three heavyweight champs but haven’t seen Casablanca, then you’re still in puberty.”

This made me wonder:

What three questions would you ask to determine if someone is a real woman?

One possible question might be, “Name two of the three actresses who tortured their boss in the movie Nine to Five.” Then I remembered that women don’t play the same stupid games that men do. And I realized that strolling too far down that path will lead to hate mail or a slap or both. So, let’s move on.

It also made me wonder if there are three questions you could ask to determine if someone is a real math geek. Sure, you could use the Math Purity Test, but that’s 63 questions. A 95% reduction in the number of items would be most welcome.

So, here are my three questions:

  • What’s the eighth digit (after the decimal point) of π?
  • What’s the punch line to, “Why do programmers confuse Halloween and Christmas?”
  • Name seven mathematical puzzles that have entered popular culture.

And my honorable mention:

  • What’s the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

One of my initial questions was, “Have you ever told a math joke for your own amusement, knowing full well that your audience either wouldn’t understand it or wouldn’t find it funny?” But I tossed that one, because it’s a yes/no question that was personal, not factual. Eventually, which questions were kept and which were discarded came down to one simple rule: If nothing was lost by replacing a question with, “Are you a math dork?” then it should be rejected.

How’d I do? Opinions welcome. Submit new or revised questions for determining one’s math geekiness in the comments. 

July 15, 2016 at 9:06 am 3 comments

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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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