Nice try. You’re just stalling so I’ll have to move the quiz to tomorrow.
Our World: Market Rebounds after Assurances from Fed Chair
Mathematically Literate World: Market Rebounds without Clear Causal Explanation
Our World: Firm’s Meteoric Rise Explained by Daring Strategy, Bold Leadership
Mathematically Literate World: Firm’s Meteoric Rise Explained by Good Luck, Selection Bias
Our World: Gas Prices Hit Record High (Unadjusted for Inflation)
Mathematically Literate World: Gas Prices Hit Record High (In a Vacuous, Meaningless Sense)
Our World: Psychologists Tout Surprising New Findings
Mathematically Literate World: Psychologists Promise to Replicate Surprising New Findings Before Touting Them
Our World: After Switch in Standardized Tests, Scores Drop
Mathematically Literate World: After Switch in Standardized Tests, Scores No Longer Directly Comparable
Chess was in the air that Friday, as surely as the nitrogen and the oxygen.
Our school’s English teacher, an amateur chess fiend, was locked in a silent grudge match against a student. I was bored, with time to kill between the end of work and meeting a friend at the movies.
I spotted another board lying unused, and thought, Why not? I haven’t played in years.
“Hey, Zhi,” I called to a senior getting an early start on his weekend homework. “You have time for a game of chess?”
He smiled and nodded. “I cannot decline such a formidable challenge.”
That’s how he really talks, bless his heart. In my recommendation letter for his college apps, I described Zhi as “a superhuman student sent to our school from the future.” I stand by it. His diligence is otherworldly. He re-solves every single math problem, over and over, until he understands it completely. I wonder: Does he never encounter the obstacles that hold the rest of us back – the pangs of laziness, self-doubt, mental exhaustion? Or does he feel those things, and simply override them, refusing to negotiate with those base impulses? How does he stay so darn focused? Continue reading
I’m still stunned by the response to my post on Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe, which spawned a whole fleet of mobile apps, was translated into Spanish by the Argentine Department of Education, and has drawn more than half a million visitors.
I take no credit. I didn’t invent this game, just drew some silly pictures explaining it.
In response, commenters suggested lots of other variants on Tic-Tac-Toe. They ranged from well-known to obscure, from simple to complex, from fun to “I guess somebody must find this fun.” I’ll post someday about the variants that make good games. But this is a post about the ones that make good puzzles, and why “puzzle” isn’t the same as “game.”
Puzzle #1: Tic-Tac-Toe with No Starting Grid
Stranger: So why did you go into teaching?
Me: Well, it seemed like a rewarding way to… hey, I found five paperclips in my pocket!
Stranger: That’s nice. A rewarding way to what?
Me: Oh, you know, to help build a culture of… ooh, I forgot I had this paperclip in my hair!
Stranger: Uh-huh. A culture of…?
Me: A culture of curiosity and critical thinking, which our country so desperately… hold on, there’s this metallic taste in my mouth…
Stranger: Don’t tell me it’s a…
Me: Hey! A paper clip!
Stranger: Why do you have paperclips in all your clothing and bodily orifices?
Me: Ha! Yeah.
Stranger: No, seriously, why?
Me: Doesn’t that happen to everybody?
The teacher kept a garden, a grove of cypress and cedar with a pond at the center.
“You will build me a garden wall, alternating white stones and black,” the teacher told the student. “It must achieve the randomness and beauty of nature. I want to look at my wall and see a reflection of the cosmos.”
“How am I supposed to do that?” the student asked.
“Before you place each rock, flip a coin,” the teacher said. “If it comes up heads, place a white rock; if tails, place a black rock. That way, the sequence will be truly random, like nature.”
The teacher left, and the student began placing stones. But before long, flipping the coin grew tedious. Continue reading
Another day of hiking brought the teacher and the student to an empty hut by a mountain stream. “We will rest here a while, and wash our clothes,” the teacher said.
When they had laid their clean clothes on sunny rocks to dry, the student pointed to the clouds gathering in the valley below. “Looks like rain. Should we be worried?”
“The rains have reached this place only once in the last 100 years,” the teacher said. “What is the probability that they will reach us today?” Continue reading