Tom Magliozzi

I make a point of not having heroes, but there are people I greatly admire. Tom Magliozzi, the co-host of *Car Talk* who passed away yesterday, was one of those people.

Not only was Tom able to make other people laugh, he was always laughing himself. He and his brother Ray hosted *Car Talk* from 1977-2012, making folks laugh — and think — for 35 years.

In case you haven’t noticed, laughing and thinking are two of my favorite activities.

Every week, Tom and Ray would try “frantically to come up with a mediocre new puzzler,” a logical or mathematical problem that wouldn’t have an immediately obvious solution. Sometimes I’d be able to solve them, sometimes I wouldn’t, but I’d always enjoy them… and I’d laugh out loud while Ray read the puzzler and Tom offered commentary.

Below are two of my favorites, but you can find the full list of puzzlers at the Car Talk web site.

This first one sounds so simplistic, but most folks get tangled up in the details. Share it at your next department meeting, and see how many colleagues can solve it. You’ll be disappointingly surprised!

A store paid $6.75 for a shirt, and they then sell the shirt for $12. A man visits the store, buys the shirt, and pays with a $20 bill. The clerk gives the customer $8 in change, as expected. But unbeknownst to the clerk, the bill was counterfeit — instead of Andrew Jackson’s picture on the bill, it’s got Michael Jackson’s! In total, how much did the store lose on the entire transaction?

That one reminds me of the Marilyn Burns horse problem: You buy a horse for $50, sell it for $60, buy it back for $70, then sell it again for $80. Did you make money, lose money, or break even?

This next one is a classic that’s taken many forms. Finding a solution isn’t too hard… finding the simplest solution may take a little effort, though.

You have a four-ounce glass and a nine-ounce glass. You have an endless supply of water. You can fill or dump either glass. You can measure six ounces of water using these two glasses. What’s the fewest number of steps in which you can measure six ounces?

RIP, Click. I’m sure you’re already making people laugh and think upstairs.

*November 4, 2014 at 10:36 am*

After stating this week’s *Car Talk* Puzzler, Tom and Ray said that the answer could be submitted via mail, email, or phone, and they gave the address, email address, and phone number. But their statement of the phone number was ambiguous. They said,

If you’d like to call us, the number is 1-888-CAR-TALK; that’s one-eight-eight-eight, two-two-seven, eight-**five-squared**-eight.

Near the end of the number, you’ll see that they included a “five-squared” to liven things up. No doubt, they did this to follow the lead of Ed Drewitz, a listener who suggested three alternative mnemonics for remembering the *Car Talk* phone number:

- log
^{-1} (10.27605439324)
- 2662.879194172
^{3}
*cos* 79.11590889189**°** × 10,000,000,000

As part of a phone number, I was unsure how to interpret “five-squared.” Did it mean two 5’s? Or was it to be translated as 25, meaning a 2 and a 5? Converting TALK to the phone digits 8255, I was happy to see that 5^{2} was meant to represent 25, which is what I had hoped but dubious that that’s what it was.

Later in the show, Ray and Tom discussed an interesting piece of research, which concluded that genius is passed from mothers to offspring, and that fathers have very little influence. This bummed me out. Three days ago, Alex told me, “A tablespoon is equal to 3 teaspoons, and that’s 12 quarter-teaspoons. We need 2 1/4 teaspoons, which is 9 quarters. So, we need to fill the tablespoon 9/12 full, which is 3/4.” That struck me as pretty good for a six-year-old — and I beamed with pride until I learned today that all of his mathematical acumen is likely derived from his mother. Ha-rumph.

There is, however, empirical evidence to the contrary. I recently read an article about wunderkind Jacob Barrett who has a 170 IQ and, at just 12 years old, was primed to become a paid research assistant in astrophysics. In an article in the *Daily Mail*, his mother Kristine Barnett admitted, “I flunked math. I know [Jacob’s ability] did not come from me.”

I don’t claim to have an IQ of 170, nor do I have a firm understanding of astrophysics. But my mother and Jacob’s mother seem to have a lot in common. My mother used to exclaim, “How the hell can *x* = 6, when *x* is a letter, and 6 is a number?”

God rest her soul. I hope she’s found peace in an algebra-free eternity.

*June 30, 2013 at 4:28 pm*