Posts tagged ‘questions’

Big Brother Knows My Sons Are Smarter Than I Am

CWGYHEL QUizWhile pointing and clicking, I stumbled upon an online quiz, Can We Guess Your Education Level? Intrigued, I tolerated the 70‑question multiple-choice quiz to see if they could make an accurate prediction. Sure enough, they correctly declared, “It looks like you’re a master with that Master’s Degree.”

How did they know?

The optimist in me thinks they use some incredible adaptive engine to figure out exactly what I know and what I don’t, and then they use that information with a correlation of what people at various educational levels know. Sounds plausible, right?

But the pessimist in me was pretty sure they just mined info from my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, and they likely knew the answer before I responded to a single question.

So, I tested my theory. I took the quiz a second time and deliberately missed a bunch of questions. When I finished, I scored only 21%, and they told me, “It appears that you completed high school, and then graduated from the School of Life.”

Okay, so it is at least based on percent correct. I’m still dubious that it’s rigorous, but at least it isn’t digging through my personal information just to dupe me.

For fun, my 9‑year old son said that he’d like to take the test. And this is when I knew it was complete bullshit — because he scored higher than I did:

PhD Result

Hold on a second. You’re telling me that I spent five glorious years at the Pennsylvania State University earning my undergraduate degree, and then I spent five magnificent years at the University of Maryland earning my master’s degree, and yet my son — who hasn’t spent even five years total in the educational system — was able to outperform me on an academic quiz?

“Hello, is this Penn State? I’d like my money back.”

What really got me, though, is that the math on this quiz — just like every other online quiz, multidisciplinary test, and academic competition — was paltry.

Speed Question

There were seven math-related questions on the test, none of which rose above the level of “basic,” and some were even lower than that. But don’t take my word for it; decide for yourself…

  1. Speed is defined as…
  2. What is the name of the result when you add four numbers and then divide the sum by 4?
  3. What is the definition of binary?
  4. How many events are in a decathlon?
  5. What is the value of the Roman numeral IX?
  6. Who wrote The Elements, and what was it about?
  7. The year 1707 is part of which century?

Can we all agree that these are rather easy math questions? It makes me wonder if our discipline is just so abstract or elusive that even the most basic of questions is perceived as difficult by a large portion of the population. If so, what accounts for this perception?

Your thoughts are most welcome.

March 29, 2017 at 4:27 pm 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

Book Review: 365 Things To Make You Go Hmmm…

365 ThingsBefore reading 365 Things That Make You Go Hmmm…, I hadn’t realized that I’d been on Earth for 1.3 billion seconds, and I never thought about what someone would feel like after spending a day in my mind. That’s the beauty of this incredible book — it asks you to think about things that you’ve probably never thought about before. The questions are great for starting classroom discussions, but they also work well for sparking a conversation between a parent and child, or as an icebreaker at your next social event.

The book contains introspective questions (“What makes you irreplaceable?”), but it also contains math and logic puzzles like the following:

Before this piece of paper was folded over once, it was a capital letter. It wasn’t the letter L — that would be too easy. Which letter was it?

Folded Letter

I’m also a big fan of puzzle #110, which starts:

An antigram is word [or phrase] that when you rearrange the letters you can make a new word or phrase that means something very different — in fact, almost the opposite! For example: earliestrise late.

It then provides a list of antigrams and asks for the opposite word or phrase. One of the antigrams is:

within earshot

Flummoxed, I looked at the answer in the back of the book, which read:

I won’t hear

I realized immediately that something was wrong. The given answer did not contain enough letters. And then I gasped, because I realized which letters had been omitted:

Within Earshot

Wow! I emailed Paul Wrangles (the author) immediately and asked if the answer was given as “I won’t hear” so as to avoid writing “I won’t hear shit,” or if this was simply a typo. He assured me that it was only a typo, and the correct answer is supposed to be:

I won’t hear THIS


With that mystery solved, I viewed the other 360 things and thoroughly enjoyed them. My sons and I have been working our way through them, though they’re so addictive, we rarely stop at answering just one a day. We’re hoping for a second volume — we need more questions to last an entire year!

365 Things That Make You Go Hmmm… is an amazing resource. Chock full of questions from ordinary to extraordinary, it made my head hurt — but in a good way!

I highly recommend this book for any teacher, parent, or curious individual.

September 15, 2014 at 6:54 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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