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Are You “Mathematically Challenged?”

picture of binary Sudoku

Some people have a great mind for math, and some don't. Until my last year of high school, I enjoyed my math classes very much and even did math problems from old textbooks from the late 1800's, just for fun. (So I was a nerd, okay?) ๐Ÿ™‚ The further I went in math in high school, though, the less enjoyable it became to me. When Algebra 2 and Math 4 started going towards trig, sines, cosines, and calculus, it was beyond my interest and abilities and was really no longer fun. Now, besides grades for classes, the most I do with numbers is my game or two of Sudoku every evening. I loved base 2 in junior high, but I'm not sure how to solve the Sudoku puzzle from http://xkcd.com on the right.

I recently saw a pie chart that was an encouragement me for having abandoned Algebra, once I got deeper into it.

picture of pie chart

All joking aside, there really are many jobs that require one's being able to work accurately with numbers. For instance, if an engineer's calculations are off even slightly, the results can be disastrous, as seen below.

picture of bridge

If you need help with math, there are people out there willing to help you ... but getting to them can be a challenge.

picture of math help

How would you like to have a locker partner like this guy's?

Another man and I share a locker at work. Noticing that it needed a new combination lock, my partner said he would pick one up on his way to work the next day. It occurred to me later that I might not see him in the morning. How would I find out the combination?

I needn't have worried — when I arrived at work I found that he had used the locker before me, had put the new lock in place, and had left a note reading "To find the first number subtract 142 from your high score the last time we went bowling. The second number is 16 less than that. To find the third number subtract 1.87 from the amount you owe me."

picture of divider

The upper halves of the people in the following image shift back and forth. Count the men each time.

picture of little people

Is it a dozen or a baker's dozen?

The following puzzle is in Chinese, but since numbers are the international language, you'll have no problem. Keep in mind that 8 X 8 = 64 and 5 X 13 = 65.

picture of math puzzle

Now that you have that one firmly in mind, here's a slightly different version where 64 = 63.

picture of math puzzle

So, does 64 equal 65 or 63? Maybe a reader who is not mathematically challenged can explain those two images to those of us who don't understand?

With lots of pumpkins available at this time of year and with the knowledge that pi = 3.14... even mathematically challenged people will enjoy this mirror image of pi.

picture of pi equals pie

Did any of you wonder why the old rotary dials on telephones had letters as well as numbers? All through my childhood, our home number was HE 5-5514. Actually in our little town, all I had to do was tell people my number was 5514, and they knew to dial 435 in front of it. Ah, life was so simple life then! Some people would tell me my number was HEmlock 5-5514. Recently I ran across an interesting blog post on why old phone numbers used to begin with letters instead of being all numbers. That's why the old rotary dials had letters as well as numbers. Those letters carried through to push-button phones and now cell phones All of that was the precursor of texting on cell phones with letters on each key, except the placement of the Z.

Here's an image from that blog post.

picture of rotary dial

I was a little put off when I first learned that hemlock was poison used in executions, wondering why that word had been chosen for our phone numbers. You might find this list of Ma Bell's Officially Recommended Exchange Names interesting, especially if you're old enough to remember your phone number including letters.

I'll end this post with a number-related video clip from the Southern comedienne Jeanne Robertson. In this hilarious monologue she describes an aspect of using numbers that eluded her husband, a man with a doctorate, whom she lovingly calls "Left Brain." Those of you reading this in an e-mail or a blog reader will have to go to my blog to see the video clip. It's worth the trip, no matter how painful going to the blog itself may seem. ๐Ÿ™‚

Are you mathematically challenged? I look forward to reading your comments on that question or on anything in the post.


"God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with him." — Jim Elliot

=^..^= =^..^=

Solve for x:

x = 0 (...clue 1 Corinthians 13)

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9 Comments on “Are You “Mathematically Challenged?””

  1. #1 Michael
    on Oct 18th, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Great multimedia blog post! I have to think that cell phones could have helped that “left brain” husband. Maybe not. Math is something I still enjoy even though I’ve forgotten much of what I learned in school. I am more dismayed every year how high school students struggle to do simple subtraction without needing a calculator.

    Rob adds: I have also forgotten a lot of the math I studied in school, but it’s surprising to me sometimes the things I still do know and can do. When I was in 7th grade, another student signed my yearbook with something like, “To the only guy I know who can solve any math problem by proportion.” Funny thing is, I still use proportion to solve for unknowns. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. #2 Meribeth
    on Oct 18th, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Wow! I remember those old telephone numbers. I remember commercials on TV that would give the phone number MUrray Hill 5-XXXX. I always thought that was weird because our phone number was just numbers, no words. But all the commercials had MUrray Hill numbers.

    Rob adds: That’s odd … you seem too young to have heard numbers like that.

  3. #3 Ray
    on Oct 18th, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    I HATED algebra in high school because it was all theory or worse – public transportation word problems … after that, trig wasn’t even on the radar screen but would have been very beneficial to have taken with one of my current hats I wear at work.

    Anyhow, I took an R&D technician position in a local company in which I was GLAD I took algebra. Once I started using it in real life, it all made sense!

    Rob adds: Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. There are all kinds of classes I didn’t enjoy, but I have hardly any course from which I haven’t used something in “real life.” In the Lord’s economy, He doesn’t seem to let our experiences go to waste. Thanks for sharing your experience, Ray.

  4. #4 Mary
    on Oct 18th, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    Cannot express in a comment how much I enjoyed that video. What are the emoticons for laughing yourself silly? Could be I know a left brain husband who also goes to the grocery.

    Rob adds: I’m glad you found it as hilarious as Becka and I did. She’s the one who unearthed it and shared it with me a year or so ago. It seemed to go perfectly with this post.

  5. #5 Vikki
    on Oct 19th, 2010 at 8:15 am

    I still remember 2 of the phone numbers from when I was a kid. 2-2160 and 3-8389. I also remember the local exchanges was REgent. When I was in high school they started having us add another couple of numbers up front. 72 and 73 for the tri-city area we lived in.

    Rob adds: Thanks for your comment, Vikki. There are still several phone numbers from our home town that I remember, even though their owners are now deceased – 6260, 4647, and 6854. I guess it was easy since we just gave our numbers as four digits to each other. It’s harder living in larger cities with multiple exchanges, especially when they’re like 232 and 233.

  6. #6 Laura
    on Oct 20th, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Thanks for the fun piece. I saw it earlier in the week, but came back to copy out the Chinese puzzles to work them out.

    Our phone number when I was growing up was HUbbard 5-7173. The number I had MORE fun with, though, was my zip code upon moving to Massachusetts toward the end of high school. The zip served five towns, and the population was so low that I asked a friend in PA to try sending me a piece of mail with just my name & zip code . . . it worked! My parents frowned on doing again, though . . .

    I enjoyed math a LOT in high school, and still use trigonometry to this day. Never got to learn calculus, but hopefully some of the kids will get that far in school, and I can learn it with them.

    Have a great day!

    Rob adds: I did a similar thing with the zip code of my university when I was a student. Three or four of us students shared a P.O. box, and the zip code of the campus is 29614. I asked my mom to send me a letter addressed to

    Box XXXXX (I don’t even remember what my box number was….)

    And the letter got to me in the normal amount of time a letter took back then (you know, in the days of pony express.) ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. #7 Laura
    on Oct 20th, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    OK, I solved the first Chinese puzzle, and yes, it takes trig to do it. The narrow angle of the triangles up top measures 20 degrees. If you clip the quadrilaterals in the lower part of the diagram into rectangles and corresponding triangles (to simplify the math), the line that continues that angle is actually set at 21.8 degrees. When you put the final figure together, the difference in the angles leaves a teeny tiny lozenge-shaped gap in the middle (the missing square unit that appears in the second figure). The gap does not show at the screen resolution and scale involved in the illustration, but it is there. Chances are, the other puzzle will have a similar flaw.

    Rob adds: Laura, your children have to be receiving an excellent education in your homeschool! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m posting below the image you sent me that illustrates your explanation above.

    picture of puzzle solution

  8. #8 Sue
    on Oct 20th, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Did you know that BJU has its own zip code? If you go to usps.com reverse zip code lookup, it has 29614 classified as “unique to specific organization” that and an “unacceptable” city designation is “Bob Jones University, SC.”

    Rob adds: Yes, that’s what I was talking about in my comment to Laura. I’m sure that a lot of mail goes in and out of the campus post office. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. #9 Laura
    on Oct 21st, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Solution to the second Chinese puzzle: improper rounding. The bottom of the little triangle does NOT equal the distance of the vertical side because the long diagonal line does not travel at a 45 degree angle. The actual value for the bottom line of the little triangle is closer to 1.143 units. When you add that to the 8 units at the top of the second figure and multiply the resulting 9.143 by 7, you’ll get 64 square units (64.001 with these rounded figures . . . but I rounded, too!)

    9.143 rounds to 9, but in this case, rounding too much leads to misleading conclusions.

    Thanks for the fun!

    Rob adds: Laura, you’re amazing! ๐Ÿ˜€