## Posts tagged ‘math’

### Silent Letter Night

Several weeks ago, Will Shortz presented an NPR Sunday Puzzle in which he stated a word and a letter, and the resulting collection would be rearranged to form a new word in which *the added letter is silent*. For instance, if Will gave RODS + W, the correct answer would be SWORD, in which the W is silent. (Note that the collection of letters is also an anagram of WORDS, but the W isn’t silent.)

At a time of year known for silent nights, it seems like a puzzle involving silent letters is completely appropriate. I’ve borrowed Shortz’s idea and extended it a bit; some of the clues in the list below have more than one silent letter added. Many items in the list are related to today’s holiday; and, because this is a math blog, the others are related to mathematics. In full disclosure, two of the answers are proper nouns.

Enjoy, and happy holidays!

- TO + W =
- TON + K =
- TOGS + H =
- GEE + D =
- TIN + G + H =
- SIN + G =
- SIN + E =
- CORD + H =
- HOLE + W =
- HEART + W =
- TINNY + E =
- COINS + E =
- NOELS + M =
- PILES + E + L =
- FRAME + T =
- REDACT + E + S + S =
- RACISMS + H + T =

### What’s in Your Pocket?

I recently received an email from adoring fan Alden Bradford:

Teacher: “Would you like a pocket calculator?”

Student: “No, thanks. I already know how many pockets I have.”

Thanks, Alden!

Of course, that reminded me of this gem from Spiked Math:

And one final pocket joke:

The department chair said to the math teachers, “I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is, we have enough money for a new microwave in the staff lounge.” The teachers cheered! Then one of them asked, “What’s the bad news?” The chair said, “It’s still in your pockets.”

Ouch.

### Math Words for National Dictionary Day

Want to start today the right way? Say, “Good morning!” to Alexa today, and she’ll respond:

Good morning! It’s National Dictionary Day. Ever wonder what the shortest word is? Technically, it’s a toss-up between the single letter words

andI, but sinceais always capitalized, I’d sayIis just a little shorter.a

Is there anything more powerful than a language arts joke to get the day off to a good start?

I have no words to describe today. I do, however, have a ton of obscene gestures.

So, what’s the shortest **math** word? Technically, *e* and *i*, but if you don’t like constants, then you’ll have to settle for the three-letter words *set* and *box*.

And what’s the longest math word — at least based on the list at Math Words? It has 17 letters, and you’ll get a big hint if you check the time.

What two math words, both having the same number of letters, are equally appropriate to describe a triangle whose sides are congruent?

And what’s the funniest math word? Personally, I think it’s *syzygy*, but according to Tomas Engelthaler, it’s *logic*. In Humor Norms for 4,997 English Words, Engelthaler and Hills (2017) describe a method for determining which words are funniest. I emailed Engelthaler to ask which math word is funniest, and he responded as if it were a completely reasonable question. Without hesitation, he shared a list of math words and their humor rankings, and these five were at the top of the list:

- logic
- math
- theory
- science
- graph

The overall funniest English word, according to Engelthaler’s research? *Booty*. Go figure.

While you may not think that any of those words, mathy or otherwise, are laugh-out-loud funny, this isn’t debatable; it’s based on science.

If you take issue with this research, you’ll need to discuss it with Engelthaler and his colleagues. Please write to him directly to say that you’re bumfuzzled, that his research is malarkey, or that you think he’s a nincompoop.

### Required Summer Reading: *The Grasshopper King*

If you’ve read *How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking*, then you know that Jordan Ellenberg is extremely intelligent, well educated, and incredibly talented. In addition, he may be the best voice for mathematics in America today. (You may have come to the same conclusion by reading his “Do The Math” column in *Slate* or from any one of the articles he’s written for *The New York Times* or *The Wall Street Journal*.) But if you haven’t read *The Grasshopper King*, a nonfiction novel that Ellenberg wrote in 2003, then you are absolutely missing out on his gifts as a pure writer. It’s the tale of Stanley Higgs, an internationally acclaimed professor of Gravinics at Chandler State University; Samuel Grapearbor, a graduate student at CSU; and the silent relationship that forms when Grapearbor is assigned to watch Higgs after he decides — for no obvious reason — to stop talking.

Coffee House Press claims that the novel is about “treachery, death, academia, marriage, mythology, history, and truly horrible poetry.” I mean, what’s not to love?

I bought *The Grasshopper King* because of how much I enjoyed *How Not to Be Wrong*, but I had no intention of enjoying it nearly as much as I did. From the first page, though, I was enthralled with Ellenberg’s style. To amalgamate several of the Amazon reviews, “this is an unusual book,” but it is beautiful because of “the finely tuned precision of the writing itself.”

This is not a math book, but occasionally Ellenberg turns a phrase that reminds you he’s a mathematician. When Grapearbor’s girlfriend claims that New York is ninety-five percent liars and snobs, he replies, “In Chandler City it’s ninety-nine. Point nine repeating.” Other times, he’ll include mathematical terms that are, in fact, completely appropriate and economical, but not altogether necessary:

a grasshopper, stirred by some unguessable impulse, heaved itself out of the drench mess, rose and fell in a perfect, inevitable

parabolawhoseinterceptwas the exposed stripe of Charlie’s backthe pressure of the water made

concentric circlesbehind my clenched-shut eyelidsthe agricultural buildings were at

discreet distancesfrom one another

And, yes, I know that last one isn’t a math phrase… but I can’t help but read it as *discrete distances*.

If you like Pynchon or Wolfe or anything off the beaten path, then you’ll like this book. The characters are quirky and memorable, and the writing is unforgettable. I recommend spending a few hours with it during what you have left of this summer.

### There Are 2 Things that Happened Yesterday…

Yesterday was a banner day.

Last night, I was finally able to carve out some time to binge-watch Season 2 of *Trial & Error*, and I was rewarded with a classic math joke in Episode 1. When lead investigator Dwayne Reed arrives at the house of accused murderer Lavinia Peck-Foster, he says:

There are two things that Reeds don’t trust: doctors, Pecks, and math.

I love it!

Upon realizing that I might be able to get my sitcom-writing career off the ground by reformulating stale math jokes, I promptly submitted my resume to NBC.

But, wait… there’s more!

Earlier in the day, I received NCTM‘s email newsletter *Summing Up*, which contained an unexpected surprise. In the section titled “NCTM Store,” there was a blurb about my most recent book, *More Jokes 4 Mathy Folks*, under the headline **Just Published!**

I had no idea that NCTM decided to sell my book, let alone that they were going to publicize it. My ignorance not withstanding, I couldn’t be more delighted!

If you’re looking for some great, light summer reading — something that can be enjoyed poolside while sipping a mojito — then pick up a copy of ** More Jokes 4 Mathy Folks** from NCTM today! Not only will your purchase support a great organization (and my sons’ college fund), you’ll also receive a 20% discount for being an NCTM member.

Following the lead of Dwayne Reed, here are jokes that begin, “There are *n* kinds…,” all of which appear in *More Jokes 4 Mathy Folks*:

- There are only 2 kinds of math books: those you cannot read beyond the first sentence, and those you cannot read beyond the first page. (C. N. Yang, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1957)
- There are 2 kinds of people in the world: those who don’t do math, and those who take care of them.
- There are 3 kinds of people in the world: positive, negative, and relative.
- There are 2 kinds of people in the world: those who are wise, and those who are otherwise.
- There are 2 kinds of statistics: the kind you look up, and the kind you make up.
- There are 2 kinds of experienced actuaries: those who say they have made significant forecasting errors, and liars.
- There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.
- There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and 9 others.
- There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand ternary; those who don’t understand ternary; and, those who mistake it for binary.
- There are 11 kinds of people: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.
- There are 8 – 3 × 2 kinds of people in the world: those who correctly apply the order of operations, and those who don’t think that 6 ÷ 2 × (1 + 2) = 9.
- There are 2 kinds of people in the world: logicians and ~logicians.
- There are 2 kinds of people in the world: those who can extrapolate from incomplete data…

### Stick Figure Math

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the pattern

1, 2, 4, 8, 16, __

and was dumbfounded to learn that the missing value was **31**, *not 32*, because the pattern was *not* meant to represent the powers of 2, but rather, the number of pieces into which a circle is divided if *n* points on its circumference are joined by chords. Known as Moser’s circle problem, it represents the inherent danger in making assumptions from a limited set of data.

Last night, my sons told me about the following problem, which they encountered on a recent math competition:

*What number should replace the question mark?*

Well, what say you? What number do you think should appear in the middle stick figure’s head?

Hold on, let me give you a hint. This problem appeared on a multiple-choice test, and these were the answer choices:

- 3
- 6
- 9
- 12

Now that you know one of those four numbers is *supposed* to be correct, does that change your answer? If you thought about it in the same way that the test designers intended it, then seeing the choices probably didn’t change your answer. But if you didn’t think about it that way and you put a little more effort into it, and you came up with something a bit more complicated — like I did — well, then, the answer choices may have thrown you for a loop, too, and made you slap your head and say, “WTF?”

For me, it was Moser’s circle problem all over again.

So, here’s where I need your help: **I’d like to identify various patterns that could make any of those answers seem reasonable.**

In addition, I’d also love to find a few other patterns that could make some answers other than the four given choices seem reasonable.

For instance, if the numbers in the limbs are *a*, *b*, *c*, and *d*, like this…

then the formula 8*a* – 4*d* gives 8 for the first and third figures’ heads and yields 8 × 6 – 4 × 9 = **12** as the answer, which happens to be one of the four answer choices.

Oh, wait… you’d don’t like that I didn’t use all four variables? Okay, that’s fair. So how about this instead: ‑3*a* + *b* + *c* – 2*d*, which also gives ‑3 × 6 + 7 + 5 + 2 × 9 = **12**.

Willing to help? **Post your pattern(s) in the comments.**

[**UPDATE (3/9/18):** I sent a note to the contest organizers about this problem, and I got the following response this afternoon: “Thanks for your overall evaluation comments on [our] problems, and specifically for your input on the Stick Figure Problem. After careful consideration, we decided to give credit to every student for this question. Therefore, scores will be adjusted automatically.”]

### 2017 KenKen International Championship

If you like puzzles and ping pong, then Pleasantville, NY, was the place to be on December 17.

More than 200 Kenthusiasts — people who love KenKen puzzles — descended on Will Shortz’s Westchester Table Tennis Center for the 2017 KenKen International Championship (or the KKIC, for short). Participants followed 1.5 hours of solving KenKen puzzles with a pizza party and several hours of table tennis.

The competition consisted of three rounds, with the three puzzles in each round slightly larger and more difficult than those from the previous round. Consequently, competitors were given 15, 18, and 20 minutes to complete the puzzles in the first, second, and third rounds, respectively.

Competitors earned 1,000 points for each completely correct puzzle, and 0 points for an incomplete or incorrect puzzle. In addition, a bonus of 5 points was earned for every 10 seconds in which a puzzle was turned in before time was called. So, let’s say you got two of the three puzzles correct and handed in your answers with 30 seconds remaining in the round; then, your score for that round would be

The leader after the written portion was John Gilling, a data scientist from Brooklyn, whose total score was 10,195. And if you’ve been paying attention, then you know what that means — Gilling earned 9,000 points for completing all of the puzzles correctly, so his time bonus was 1,195 points… which is the amount you’d earn for turning in the puzzles 2,390 seconds (combined) before time was called. The implication? Gilling solved all 9 puzzles from the written rounds — which contained a mix of puzzles from size 5 × 5 to 8 × 8 — in just over 13 minutes.

Wow.

As a result, Gilling, the defending champion, earned a spot in the Championship Round against Tess Mandell, a math teacher from Boston; Ellie Grueskin, a high school senior at The Hackley School; and Michael Holman, a technology consultant. In the final round, each of them attempted a challenging 9 × 9 puzzle, which was displayed on an easel for the crowd to see. Solving a challenging 9 × 9 is tough enough; having to do it as 200 kenthusiasts follow your every move is even tougher.

So, how’d they do? See for yourself…

When the dust settled, Gilling had successfully defended his title. For his efforts, he received a check for $500. But more importantly, he retained bragging rights for one more year.

If you think you’ve got what it takes to compete with the best KenKen solvers, try your hand at the 9 × 9 puzzle that was used in the final round. In the video above, you saw how fast Gilling solved it to win the gold. But even the slowest of the four final-round participants finished in under 15 minutes.

Again, wow.

Finally, I’d be failing as a father if I didn’t mention that my sons Alex and Eli competed in the Delta (age 10 and under) division. Though bested by Aritro Chatterjee, a brilliant young man who earned a trip to the 2017 KKIC by winning the UAE KenKen Championship, Eli took the silver, and Alex brought home the bronze. They’re shown in the photos below with Bob Fuhrer, the president of Nextoy, LLC, the KenKen company and host of the KKIC.

#proudpapa

For more KenKen puzzles, check out www.kenken.com, or see my series of posts, A Week of KenKen.