Calculating a Limerick

1896 Bichet schoolhouse ~ Marion County, Kansas

Just for fun, I recently asked several people if they knew the meaning of the phrase, “the three Rs.” Most gave me blank looks. A few remembered that it refers to “readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic,'” and one sang the old song about school days perfectly. I couldn’t have sung the verses, but the chorus has stayed with me for decades, evoking not only my own early classrooms, but also the wonderful one-room schoolhouses still standing across the country:

School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days.
‘Readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic,
Taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick.
You were my queen in calico,
I was your bashful barefoot beau,
And you wrote on my slate,
‘I love you, Joe,’
When we were a couple of kids.

Given that the song was written in 1907, the words of the second stanza seem remarkably modern:

‘Member the hill, Nellie Darling,
And the oak tree that grew on its brow?
They’ve built forty stories
Upon that old hill,
And the oak tree’s an old chestnut now.
‘Member the meadows so green, dear,
So fragrant with clover and maize,
Into new city lots
And apartment block plots,
They’ve torn them all up since those days.

Unfortunately, skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic have degraded over the years as surely as that old oak. School buildings may be fancier now, but I’d willingly bet that graduates of the Bichet schoolhouse shown above could hold their own against many of today’s students, particularly when it comes to the basics.

I will admit that, during my own primary school years, I loved reading and ‘riting, but ‘rithmetic was the bane of my existence. Eventually I learned to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, but by that time I was old enough to be faced with accursed, anxiety-producing word problems. For example:

Devon is going to make 3 shelves for her father. He has a piece of lumber 12 feet long. She wants the top shelf to be half a foot shorter than the middle shelf, and the bottom shelf to be half a foot shorter than twice the length of the top shelf. How long will each shelf be if she uses the entire 12 feet of wood?

Faced with something like that, I’d wonder why Devon didn’t just go to the store and buy some shelves, saving herself the aggravation of all that calculating.

In truth, I wasn’t being practical. I was exhibiting behavior typical of what’s come to be called a math-phobic: stymied as much by my conviction that I couldn’t ‘do math’ as I was by the equations themselves.

There always have been  teachers able to recognize and cope with the condition, even though I wasn’t lucky enough to have one during my school years. When I read about Michael Gallin, a high school math teacher in the Bronx, I envied his students, and wondered how differently my relationship to math might have evolved had I been in his classroom.

In an especially interesting article about his approach published in the Washington Post he say of his students, “They are afraid of being wrong, and that fear of being wrong cripples them.”

I might have used ‘paralyzes’ rather than ‘cripples,’ but the dynamic he describes is familiar. Eventually, it was sailing that overcame my paralysis. Forced by my sailing instructor to learn navigation as well as knot-tying and engine-bleeding, the revelations came swiftly. That speed-time-distance formula? Algebra. Triangulation as a means of determining position? Geometry. It all was so useful, and best of all, it was understandable.

In time, thanks to math-savvy friends who actually enjoy playing with numbers, I began to understand that math not only could be useful, it could be fun. When one of them passed on a little gem of a puzzle to me recently, my first amazement was that I could do the mathematical calculations and arrive at the answer.

The twist, of course, was that the formula also could be expressed in the form of a limerick. For once, figuring out the words was harder than doing the math. Once I was given a clue — read the first three numbers not as numerals, but as descriptions of ‘things’ — it got easier, and the limerick began to emerge.

If you’re inclined to give it a try, I’ll give you a couple of clues. The limerick begins with “A dozen” and ends with the phrase “and not a bit more.” Once you click on the solution, it’s unbelievably obvious, even though it takes some creativity to get there. Have fun!



Click here for the solution


Comments always are welcome.

146 thoughts on “Calculating a Limerick

    1. My skills haven’t improved all that much, and there still are things about math that are clear as the proverbial mud to me, but at least my anxiety level is lower. That’s allowed me to have fun with puzzles like this, and see things like the Fibonacci Sequence as not only interesting, but incredibly beautiful — as shown in this fascinating video .

  1. Back in my 1960’s high school, only the math kids had access to the computer terminal and in college, advanced mathematics was a requirement for computer science. In reality, most programming had little to do with mathematics. Logic maybe – but the most critical skills were analyzing and formalizing business problems – in other words, understanding how people did things.

    By the 1990’s, one could look at a well-written C++ or Java program and recognize it for what it was – poetry.

    1. I’m surprised that your high school had computers in the 1960s. I was in high school at the same time, and there wasn’t a computer to be seen. In fact, I didn’t see an actual computer until 1983 or so. Granted, they were around before then, but they just weren’t a part of my life.

      Your comparison of computer programs to poetry is intriguing. It’s the imprecision of language that contributes to the power of poetry, and yet computer language is necessarily precise: at least, that’s how I understand it. That doesn’t mean a program can’t be elegant; I’d grant you that in a minute.

      1. We didn’t have a computer, only a terminal hooked to a mainframe at Control Data. Remember Control Data?

        While it helps when programming is precise, programmers are free to name their variables and routines, and structure their programs as they see fit. This is writing. As much as software tries to emulate engineering, it still is at its core, a craft and like all crafts can be beautifully written (poetic) or astonishingly ugly.

        1. Actually, I don’t remember Control Data, but now I at least know what it was. When I first read your comment, I wasn’t home and couldn’t get to my bookmarks. One of the people who got me interested in understanding programming, etc. was Paul Graham, he of YCombinator/Lisp etc. Every now and then I go in and read another of his essays. Some are too technical for me, but he’s got a lot to say that applies to anyone involved with programming, creative endeavors, or general business management.

    1. “School Days” belongs to another time, but I’m glad it still was around to become a good memory for me. Many of the Kansas schoolhouses have been preserved and incorporated into modern life as museums, community centers, and so on. Can’t you imagine riding your horse to this school, out in the middle of the prairie?

        1. As a matter of fact, I can. It’s not that easy even with roads — I suspect if I were the schoolmarm at that school and a blizzard arrived, I’d stay put, and hope the school committee had chopped enough wood.

  2. That limerick is an ingenious fusion of genres! (This from a film reviewer) Also, your question asking people if they know what the 3 R’s refer to is a tactful way of gauging their age. Nice.

    1. I was amused by the fusion of art and science when I got the limerick, but I hadn’t considered how it resembles works in your area of expertise! As for gauging age, songs and their lyrics are an interesting way to go about it. A friend and I often laugh about the number of songs only one of us knows. We’re separated by only five years, but we’re clearly of different generations — at least, when it comes to music.

      1. Ah, but when a fair amount of your time as a child was spent with aunts and uncles, grandparents and people who’d come to North America after the War, musical interests were broadened (atypical to say the least; )

        1. That’s right. And that’s one thing I love about Texas. There are so many forms of music here, all reflecting the different cultures that have helped build the state: polka, mariachi, blues, bluegrass, Western Swing, and on and on. Even when I was a kid in Iowa, there were a lot of ethnicities in my grandparents’ town, and they shared music (and recipes! and customs!) freely.

  3. I got it…but it also reminded me why I also hated math…plus there was a math teacher in my past who wanted to cut off my hair (goodness know why). Come to think of it, it was my math teachers and not the actual math that I “hated.”

    1. Teachers can make so much difference — for good or for ill. I must say, having one who wanted to cut off my hair would have re-shaped my attitude. I presume you escaped with your hair intact; you clearly gained enough math skills to do what you needed to do in your profession and on the trails.

  4. You were fortunate to have the sailing experience to bust you out of math anxiety. I wasn’t so fortunate. It didn’t help that Mrs. Ball, my freshmen math teacher didn’t appreciate my brand of high spirits. One day sitting in the front row where she had placed me, I told her I felt sick. She told me to sit still. I threw up all over the floor in front of the whole class. I was, of course, humiliated. But she tore her stockings cleaning up the mess. I got my revenge. But after that class I never went back to math—I was having none it.

    Fast forward…I went back to college five times before finally completing my degree in my 50s. Mainly it was life events and finances that kept me from finishing, but math was the big wall. I took the ACT before my last attempt (crying as I sat with all the young people flying through the test) and scored 5 on math and 95 in English. I majored in journalism and community health. But first, I had to complete three semesters of algebra. Fortunately there were classes for those of us who weren’t science majors. I was proud of the straight A’s. But I remain math challenged except for my numbers spread sheet where I keep track of expenses.

    1. What an experience — of course you were humiliated, and it’s good that Mrs. Ball got her comeuppance.

      Your experience with the ACT feels familiar — I’m certainly glad you persevered and got through those semesters of algebra — with As, no. less. When I began college, I had to take what they called general math, and it was ghastly. There were several hundred of us in the class, and the teacher was who-knows-where, lecturing via television while teaching assistants roamed the room. They were into the new math, with sets and subsets of purple this and green that. I gave up, and learned to play bridge in the back of the room. Somehow, I made it through with a C.

      At least you can do your spreadsheets and I can manage invoices — hooray for us!

  5. Math used to be my strongest classes in college but I could no more figure out that formula above today than I could fly myself to the moon.

    I was shocked at the results of your mini survey of people who remember the meaning of the Three R’s. Wow, does that date me! I, too, could sing the first half of that stanza above. How times change!

    1. Well, see? That’s why I provided the limerick “answer.” Even those of us who couldn’t figure it out perfectly still can have the fun of seeing how it was done.

      As for the old songs, for every young’un who hasn’t heard of “School Days,” there’s an old geezer saying, “KPop? Is that a cereal?”

  6. Great post. The line from the math teacher – “They are afraid of being wrong, and that fear of being wrong cripples them.”– really got me thinking.

    1. That line can suit any number of situations, can’t it? If you haven’t read the whole article, it’s worth a few minutes. Those of us who are self-taught in one way or another know the value of continuing education for the teacher!

  7. I recall chanting my multiplication tables to myself as I walked home from school. I never did master those durn tables. I was able to succeed at addition and subtraction because I learned how to “cast out 9’s” to check my work, but multiplication was a booger. I did well in geometry because I could work the logic, but forget algebra. (The only equation I remember is 2T=P) The way I feel about it is that if God wanted me to do math in my head, She wouldn’t have given us calculator(app)s.

    1. Can you believe I’ve never heard of casting out nines? It’s another of those neat tricks that might have helped me out if I’d known about it. I did fine when it came to memorizing the multiplication tables, except when it came to the nines. I finally learned the trick of using my hands to get the right answer. (Example: count your thumb as a finger. Bend down the third finger on your left hand. Two fingers are on the left side, seven on the right. 9 x 2 = 27. It works all the way through.)

      I can do most simple arithmetic in my head, but I still resort to paper and pencil for anything more complicated. Of course, I still use a hand-written grocery list, so there’s that.

    1. I’ve noticed that you still use numbers a good bit, but today they have more to do with word and page counts. You’ve moved from your MBA days to the joys of an MLA — master of literary administration!

  8. Word problems were the bane of my existence too until I had a teacher who spent some time with me on it. So I learned how to turn the words into an equation which could then be solved. My most frustrating challenge was the beginning of Geometry and proving theorems. My Dad would labor over it with me so when I went to class I always was prepared with a theorem…always correct even if there was an extra line or two. There were a few tears over Geometry. While I was a science major and did take trig and calculus, the only math I ever applied in adult working life beside the basics of addition and subtraction was basic 8th grade Algebra. Stuff I couldn’t do in my head I’d just make an equation and solve for the unknown.

    I agree about the writing skills of the past. I realize that styles change over time and that language use can date a written piece, yet we have in some ways sacrificed the beauty of language for what might be regarded as simply modern and crisp.

    My favourite book of poetry includes this letter of President Lincoln (yes I know there’s debate on authorship) with the caption: “On the walls of Brasenose College, Oxford University, England, this letter of the “rail-splitter” President hangs as a model of purest English, rarely, if ever, surpassed.”. I thought you might enjoy the read or reread as applies on this example:
    Executive Mansion
    Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
    To Mrs Bixby, Boston, Mass,

    Dear Madam,
    I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

    I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

    I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

    Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
    A. Lincoln

    1. I laughed at your casual comment that stuff you couldn’t do in your head you’d “just make an equation and solve for the unknown.” From my perspective, you just moved into the realm of black magic with that one. There are times when I think I’d like to go back to the beginning and learn how to do some of these things, but I’ve coped so far, and I don’t have the years left to do everything I’d like to do!

      As for “modern and crisp,” another way of looking at that is “reductive and boring.” The letter you quoted is a fine example of graceful writing. Acronyms, initialisms, and emojis can communicate on one level, but not on the level Lincoln achieved.

  9. Well, Linda, the calculation example involving Devon was what scuppered my -0- grade Arithmetic. I was fine at adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing: but anything more complicated lost me – largely because it bored me too much to even think about bothering to try to figure it out.

    Now, if my maths teacher had swept into the room in first year senior school and declaimed:
    “Plato said ‘The Universe is number!!’ ” I would have been excited, and engaged.

    Instead, having hated my father before me, he decided he would hate – and persecute – me too.
    Scratch a maths failure, and you probably find some form of sad story…

    However, despite all of the above, when it came to learning how to manually calculate astrological horoscopes – a pretty complex business before the computer era – I was sufficiently motivated despite many tears and hurlings of textbooks across rooms to gain a Distinction in the calculation paper when I sat my Faculty of Astrological Studies Certificate exam, the entry portal for me to my subsequent career as a professional astrologer. It’s amazing where motivation, persistence and determination can take one!

    1. Your experience with your astrological studies seems to have paralleled mine with sailing. For those of us who didn’t start out fascinated by the inherent properties of numbers, discovering that facility with numbers was necessary to achieve a specific goal provided a good bit of motivation.

      I smiled at your reference to Plato. I missed physics in school, but by the time I finished reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for the first time, I was completely engaged by her discussions of physicists I’d only heard of. I’m away from home and can’t find the exact quotation, but in a book on craftsmanship, a fellow who makes chairs says something like this: “Anyone can learn to use a drawing knife, but first you have to be interested enough to learn. Learning to be interested is the first step.”

  10. I was never good at math either. Took ‘extra’ classes, cried, fretted and eventually just accepted that it was something I was just not good at. Being good at two out of three had to be enough. Eventually, I grew up, and realized that I could be good at math. However, I wasn’t able to solve the problem and figure out the limerick — I cheated and looked. Something else age has taught me — sometimes it’s okay to take the shortcut. Thanks for a lovely post.

    1. And that’s exactly why I included that nice, big link to the solution. Having been frustrated by problems myself, I had no desire to frustrate my readers. I almost posted the solution on the same page, but decided that there might be some who’d like to give it a go, so I kept it accessible but hidden.

      There certainly are times when shortcuts are useful, and perfectly acceptable — as long as they get us to the place where we’d intended to arrive. I’ve taken a shortcut or two in my life that more than doubled the journey.

  11. I remember “School Days,” but I somehow missed the “queen in calico” part! Thanks for that — and for giving my brain something to noodle on today!

    I know what you mean about math-phobia. I think perhaps my teachers just didn’t know how to impart knowledge in that area. To this day, my eyes glaze over when I read a “word problem,” and no way can I solve them. Eventually, algebra clicked for me, but geometry never did, despite a cute, funny teacher who seemed to enjoy the subject.

    Confession time — I never even tried to solve the limerick. I just clicked for the answer right away. I guess my grief is too new for me to think I can figure or concentrate right now.

    1. That’s why I made the link to the solution so obvious, Debbie. I thought some might like to have a try at figuring it out, but it’s fun enough just to see how it was done in the first place.

      One of the things that intrigues me about people’s difficulties with math is how often I hear someone say, “I get algebra, but geometry was beyond me,” or, on the other hand, “I love geometry, but those equations drive me nuts.” I suppose someone has done some research about differences in the way our brains deal with each subject.

      I finally figured out that patience was a missing ingredient in my approach to math. Especially with word problems, slowing down and taking it piece by piece helps; whether it helps enough is another question.

  12. Math was the bane of my existence as well. Still is. And, as with you, word problems brought me to my knees. Still do. I took a stab at yours and gave up. I did however, work out the limerick, checked the answer, and turns out I was correct. Apparently I’m a word guy.

    I did remember the song, but not as clearly as I remember another song with the same title, which I grew up with. Lyrics quoted here in part:

    Up in the mornin’ and out to school
    The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
    American history and practical math
    You study ’em hard and hopin’ to pass
    Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
    And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone

    Ring, ring goes the bell
    The cook in the lunchroom’s ready to sell
    You’re lucky if you can find a seat
    You’re fortunate if you have time to eat
    Back in the classroom, open your books
    Gee but the teacher don’t know how mean she looks.

    It was suggested somewhat seriously in about 1963 that Chuck Berry be nominated as poet laureate of the United States. The contention was that his ability to portray snippets of American life in a very few words was second to none.

    1. Good for you! The creativity involved in expressing that math problem in words impressed me — much more than most word problems ever did. I loved trains as a kid, but I still quiver when I come across the phrase, “If a train left the station…”

      Of course I remember your song, including the melody. I remember the last line differently, as somehow involving the phrase “dirty looks.” More research (and a visit to YouTube) is required. Chuck Berry’s still a favorite, and like so many singer/songwriters, his lyrics certainly can rise to the level of poetry.

  13. That was way beyond me. Not even a clue as to what that equation was let alone how it might translate to words.

    On the other hand, I know what the three Rs are, so I’m golden on that point.

    1. Well, as another reader said, motivation is everything. I finally had a few “Ah, ha!” moments when I started cooking for myself and had to cut recipes in half, or double them. The first time I had to figure out half of 3/4 cup, I paused. That’s when one of the three Rs suddenly became relevant.

  14. What a great limerick! Thanks for showing.
    As to the “shelf problem”: I would never have been able to come up with a solution, not even in nmy days at school. Remember: I’m the maths whizz kid in the family, for whom 2 + 2 sometimes equals 3, and sometimes equals 5, but never 4!
    Have a wonderful weekend,

    1. Wasn’t that fun? I never would have imagined that an equation could have been turned into verse, but it worked well.

      When I moved into my new place, I didn’t build shelves, but I mounted shelves, and I wanted them centered and spaced equally. Level, too. You would have thought I was building the Sistine Chapel — or maybe a garage. But I got it done. If I’d had to start with a 12′ board, I would have divided it into three parts and looked for my drill!

      I found bluebonnets this weekend — and a lot of them. I hope you’re seeing some by now.

      1. I’m hoping for the first wildflowers, too. This morning I discovered the first blossoms on our Mexican Plums. As soon as we have some sunshine, I’ll be out taking pictures.
        Have a great week,

        1. I just checked the forecast, because I’m plotting a visit to your area this month. It looks like this week won’t be the best — we’ll see what happens after that.

          1. We’ll wait and see. I’m especially interested, if any of those wildflowers whose seeds I planted [very late] will come out.

            1. They might. I was in the neighborhood of Gonzalez last weekend, and several wildflowers that have bloomed here weeks ago were just beginning to emerge there. Wildseed Farms says theirs are just beginning to bud, and they’re predicting a March 20th bloom date, give or take.

            2. I’ll have to wait and see, especially as I put the seeds out very late – maybe too late. Btw, this time I experimented with seed balls for the first time.

  15. I admit I clicked on the solution, although I might have found the answer in time.
    I was one of the poor children in my year who was picked on by a nasty old maths teacher and he insisted on calling me to the blackboard (yes, that long ago) to work out a problem, all the while I was shaking with fear at his hateful treatment. I am sure I could have done better in maths had he shown any kindness or patience. Later on in life I managed reasonably well.
    As for the shelf, that’s what carpenters are for?

    1. That’s why I provided that nice, noticeable link — so you could click on it, and then get on with enjoying the clever math-to-poetry transformation.

      Going to the blackboard was nerve-wracking at best. Even some of the best students in my class hated it. But there’s no excuse for nasty treatment, although many seem to have suffered from it. My teachers were perfectly fine, and my poor father spent hour after hour working with me, but things just never clicked.

      I laughed at your comment — “that’s what carpenters are for?”. I have a perfectly delightful, self-effacing customer who refers to himself as a ‘checkbook mechanic.’ He’s not at all inclined toward such things, and considers it great good fortune that he can call the mechanic, or the carpenter, or whomever, to do what he’s too klutzy to do himself.

  16. Four hours of sleep last night. I claim I’m too sleepy. Wait until I wake up. Don’t bother to check, I’ll let you know when I get the answer.

  17. I remember the entire lyrics to “School Days” too, thanks to my mom, who played the ukulele and loved so many of the old songs that most have long-since forgotten, and I’m sure I have her to thank for my own love of music. Many of the old classics had introductions that seem to be lost to popular knowledge. One of her favorites that I’ve always treasured remembering is Shine On, Harvest Moon. Have you ever heard its introduction?
    The night it was so dark that you could hardly see, for the moon refused to shine
    Couple sittin’ underneath the willow tree, for love they pined
    Little maid was kind of ‘fraid of darkness so she said, “I think I’ll go.”
    Boy began to sigh, looked up at the sky, told the moon his little tale of woe

    1. I don’t think I have heard that introduction. I certainly never have sung it, even though it’s always included when the inevitable “moon madness singathon” starts down by the water. It’s amazing how many songs there are that are moon related, and how many a group can dredge up from their collective memory.
      For some odd reason, I never think of “School Days” without segueing into “Bicycle Built for Two.” Classics, both of them.

  18. I remembered the first stanza of that song and the second stanza does sound very modern.

    Word problems were my downfall – hated them. And I barely got through college algebra. I never took up sailing so I still have math phobia. I admire anyone who can really sail! And I would not even attempt your limerick.

    1. I double checked that second stanza, just because it did seem so modern. It’s hard to tell, these days, what’s original and what’s been changed one way or another.

      I did take some comfort in knowing that I could diagram sentences. I loved doing that — even at the blackboard. But math? I might as well have been staring at a brick wall. I have a lot more sympathy for teachers now than I once did. They have quite a challenge when they face those eager little faces and those blank minds.

      By the way — I was in Rockport today, and the cemetery is nice and flowery. Some bluebonnets are fading, but other are coming on, and there is a wealth of other flowers. I suspect it will be nice the next couple of weeks, depending on the weather.

  19. Though I had always been an A student, when as a homeschooling mother I began to teach my children math, I realized I didn’t really understand a lot of it. I knew that in order to teach the multiplication of fractions, for example, I needed to really grasp “what was going on” before I could really explain it. Out of desperation I took pieces of string and began to fold and cut and work out the meaning for myself.

    I don’t know if I ever had a math phobia, but the amount of patience I have for it was spent with that string. After algebra, we let the children learn math at the community college. I’m sure if I were on a desert island with a math textbook I would grow to love it!

    1. Isn’t that always the way? No matter the subject or skill, if we’re going to teach, we have to have a firm grasp of the material. A friend who’s home-schooled her own children says she’s learned more teaching them than she ever did during her own years in school. I’m not sure how you used the string to figure out multiplying fractions, but I’m impressed that you found such a creative way to educate yourself!

      Now, let’s see: if a woman is marooned on a desert island for six and three-quarters years, and she has math books with a total of 835 pages — with pages dealing with geometry six times….

      We’ll hope neither of us ever is in such a situation!

  20. Hope this doesn’t go toward the final grade. Ma’am, I was not able to complete the assignment within the time allowed. So I hope you aren’t keeping score, I wasn’t doze’n in class, just grossly deficient in math skills.
    I know “score” from the Gettysburg Address, but have only seen “gross” on cartons when I worked in a grocery store in high school, but not since then, I think. It’s kind of in the same boat as bushel & peck, unless I’m buying potatoes or apples at the farmer’s market, you don’t see these terms. I worked on this puzzle, off & on, furlong time, went the extra mile you might say, so spare the rod!
    That’s a great photo of the schoolhouse!

    1. Your comment made me laugh. I can remember a few times in my own life when precisely that sort of supplication either worked, or didn’t. Usually it involved math or science assignments, since I could whip out a book report or an essay on the social structure of ancient Greek city-states without blinking.

      Now I’m wondering how ‘gross’ came to be a unit of measure as well as an expression of displeasure. I took the weekend off to go wildflower-seeking, so I’m working on my iPad, and I’m not good at seeking information without losing what I’m working on, so I’ll save that for later — along with a link to that other old song that you might well know: the one that includes the line “I love you a bushel and a peck…”

      That string of. puns is great, too. Any math that gives rise to that sort of clever retort is good math in my book!

      1. Believe it or not, Linda, when I was in 6th-10th grades, a couple of my former teachers had me come back twice a week, to tutor some kids in the primary school in math. I think their theory was, that because I’d struggled a bit with math, I could relate, and would help them out better than the math geniuses. It was actually kind of fun being an assistant teacher, and the kids and I had some fun, too. Or at least, as much fun as you can have doing math exercises!

        1. That makes perfect sense to me. Sometimes people who are accomplished in a field assume too much about a student’s base knowledge. I always remember an experience I had while teaching sailing. A pair of women from a Houston law firm showed up for the basic class. On the first day, I asked one of the women to bring me a coil of line from the dock. She looked at me in all innocence and said, “What’s a dock?” Thank goodness I didn’t say a thing except, “That concrete walkway you came down to get to the boat.” She turned out to be a very good sailor, but that was one of those moments when I could have done some real damage.

          1. It wasn’t a gag, but it could make you gag. What does it say about the authority of the people on the New York Times editorial board and “commentators” on news programs?

            1. Speaking of math and news commentators, I just stumbled across this, posted online by a well-known radio show host:

              “Interesting that ActBlue raised an average donation of $30.38. This would imply people are donating in uneven numbers, including pennies, which would be odd. OR it would indicate untraceable foreign donations and an exchange rate translation, which would be illegal.”

              OR it might suggest that someone knows how to add up donations and divide that total by the number of contributors, but that’s not nearly as sexy as a good conspiracy theory.

            2. The math teacher will go with your last suggestion. I see that a certain Charlotte Clymer replied similarly to that tweet by Bill Mitchell:

              “I just did a search on FEC’s website of every donation made this cycle under the name of “William R. Mitchell” — that’s your name, right?

              “They averaged out to $53.03 — wouldn’t this imply donating in uneven numbers, including pennies, or indicate untraceable foreign donations?”

    1. I did hear about it. At the time, I was tootling along at 65 mph, halfway between Angleton and Bay City, and even I could work that one out in my head. There were only two possibilities: either the Corona virus had taken out 99.99999% of our population while I wasn’t looking, or a clutch of editors, graphics artists, and news readers were comatose or suffering severe cases of I-want-it-to-be-true flu.

  21. I’d wish you had been in my math class. You would have enjoyed the magic of math and would not have suffered from its phobia. I agree with you I have also noticed a general decline in the basics in our elementary schools.

    1. I’ll bet your class would have been fun, Peter. Even if it wasn’t exactly fun, I might have learned a few things, and that would have increased the fun factor by a good bit. Success breeds success, after all, and giving students of any age even the slightest taste of success is so important.

    1. As I asked my sailing instructor once, “Couldn’t I just keep a navigator as part of the crew?”. “Sure,” he said. “But what are you going to do if the navigator goes overboard?” It was a good and motivating question. Now that I think about it, there’s broader application, too. I’ve heard people say that our society is rudderless, but it may be that we’ve lost skilled navigators.

  22. I clicked on the link and didn’t even try. I never ginned with math, but I was thankful for one good teacher who helped me with algebra. Oddly, the geometry class the next year was easy for me. I do use math a lot here on the ranch, and in baking – we just don’t think of it as math in daily practice.

    I am probably on the young spectrum of knowing the three R’s and I do know the first stanza but had no idea there was a second!

    1. I’ve come to the conclusion that algebra and geometry require different skills, or at least appeal to people with different learning styles. I’m more visual, and (eventually) that helped me with geometry. Practical application helps things along, too. Like you, I found it necessary to hone my skills when it came to baking, or estimating job costs in my work.

      I was surprised to find that the first verse I included is the chorus, and there actually are even more verses. Like you, I didn’t have any idea about the verses; I’d always just sung the chorus, and assume that was the whole of the song.

  23. Very clever. I am good at math, minored in college, but still needed to click for the solution. My youngest daughter was math-phobic and still claims to be. But, I see her solve many problems requiring math skills.

    1. You would have grinned at me working my way through the equation. It wasn’t exactly difficult, but I had to “think” my way through it. I certainly couldn’t post it if it were wrong!

      Your mention of your daughter’s problem solving abilities made me think again about those dreaded word problems. In some ways, they were pretty far removed from our experience, even when they were of the “If Billy had three apples” sort. I really don’t know today how much of my difficulty then was the teachers, and how much was a brain not well-wired for math I know this — there still are times when my eyes glaze over. Not so very long ago, I decided to try proving a theorem. Oh, gracious. Clear as mud!

  24. When I recently told a friend my wife was so tight she squeezed a nickel until the buffalo hollered he did not get it. Turns out he had never seen or heard of a buffalo nickel.

    A few years ago a lady and I mentioned where we were when President Kennedy was killed. Both of us were in high school in 1963. Others in the room did not comprehend because none of them were even born until 1978 or after.

    I solved the math problem by trial and error. Never learned algebra.

    1. The phenomenon you mention is one reason so many have a hard time dealing with the realities of quarantine and/or vaccination. I grew up before the polio vaccine, and believe me — having friends with crutches and knowing about iron lungs impresses an appreciation for medical advances. I know one woman who refuses to vaccinate her kids, and we’ve had some interesting discussions.

      There’s nothing wrong with trial and error. Welcome to the learning process.

      1. I agree with you regarding quarantine and vaccination because I remember people with polio and iron lungs. My Grandfather saw bodies of dead soldiers stacked like cordwood beside the road at the entrance to Camp Greene in Charlotte NC in 1918 during the Spanish Flu epidemic. Scary times.

    1. I think if I took some math classes now, I would be able to “get it.” But I’ve gotten this far in life with my basic understanding, and time is short. Sitting in Algebra I isn’t as appealing as other ways to spend my time.

  25. Sounds like you could have been my twin sister, Linda. I never did like word problems. Still don’t. I survived math, however, in an A sort of way right up to my Junior year when I had a math teacher who specialized in embarrassing students. Including me. I never cracked another math book after that. My loss, I realize, but it also speaks to the power of a teacher to influence the future of students. –Curt

    1. It’s been interesting to read the accounts here of less than stellar teachers. You’re exactly right that teachers of every sort can wield outsized influence, and classroom teachers aren’t the only ones who can do that. I think of my sailing instructor, particular, who completely changed the course of my life and made me much more amenable to tackling new experiences. I’m glad I know how to bleed a diesel engine, but I’m even more glad I’m much more open and less fearful than I used to be.

      1. I was fortunate to have a number of mentors in my life who made a critical difference, as well as some first rate teachers. But few had the impact of the algebra teacher. –Curt

  26. I’m old enough to immediately know what the three R’s are. I wonder how long it’s been since they’ve even taught “rithmetic,” My children, who are now adults, learned mathematics.

    1. I think the difference between math and ‘rithmetic is mostly a matter of language. For one thing, ‘rithmetic fits nicely with the other two Rs: alliteration ruled, in that case. It is interesting that I don’t remember ‘mathematics’ ever being listed in course descriptions. It always was a particular branch of the field: algebra, geometry, calculus.

    1. When I was asking around to see if anyone remembered those three Rs, one of my younger respondents pondered for a minute and said, “Is ‘rap’ one of them?” I felt about a hundred and sixty years old at that point — but at least I can read and write, and manage to balance my checkbook!

  27. Story problems. I hated them then and I do now. And yes, call it math anxiety. One reason I was a theatre major was because that department didn’t require math. Otherwise, I would have had to take dumb math my freshman year. What’s truly funny was that in junior high school I was in advanced math. I think that’s because in grade school I learned “new” math but when we moved in sixth grade, they still used “old” math (don’t ask me the dif) and I must have placed higher on the tests.

    I nearly died in all my required classes. Yes, I’d go out and buy the bookshelves. Personally, looking at that story problem, I think her bookcase shelving arrangement sounds a bit ugly and why would you build it that way unless you had to work around a crooked ceiling, like a dormer. I’d just go to IKEA and buy modulars.

    1. It’s funny that even though I didn’t try to work out that bookshelf problem, my sense was that they’d be ugly, too. I’d be off to a shop, myself. Putting up some crown molding ledges and getting them straight was enough of a challenge for me.

      Sometimes I think we all were guinea pigs for educational theorists. I didn’t run into the “new” math until my freshman year in college, and it nearly wiped my mind clean of everything math-related I’d learned to that point. I hated that class so much. It was so large they needed multiple television screens for the instructor to be visible to everyone, and the ratio of teaching assistants to students was about 1/75. I sat in the back of the room and learned to play bridge. It wasn’t the worst thing.

      I do suspect that you learned a good deal of practical math through your theater work, though. Costume design, scenery construction — all those things needed for a good production — require math, and I’ll bet you didn’t leave it to someone else all the time!

  28. I have always enjoyed math myself, but as a teacher (very long time ago) I also recognized that for kids who didn’t get math right away, it was important to connect it with something in the regular life, like sailing for you. Of course, I had to check your formula if it was mathematically right, but I really enjoyed the limerick derived from it.

    1. It amused me that you checked the formula, Otto. I knew some people would, so I made sure it was right before I posted it — and believe me, it pleased me that I could figure it out. I do think the limerick is clever as can be; it’s nice to see science and art so well joined.

  29. I never got very far with math…algebra was about the limit for me. Analytical geometry, trigonometry, and calculus made my head hurt after the first few minutes. So, as you might imagine, I had no possibility of solving the limerick. But I enjoyed reading it and then working backwards.

    1. What surprised me was how much of the limerick fell into place once I was given a couple of clues. Maybe I would have done better with math if I’d seen it more as solving puzzles rather than solving problems. At least I have a vague idea what algebra and geometry are about. Trig and calc, as my math-whiz friends call them? Not so much. But I still had fun with the limerick, anyway.

      1. I imagine if you had a teacher like the one you mention math would have been presented as a puzzle that was a fun solve. Good teachers, well most all do their best and deserve respect, are able to find ways.

        1. Now and then I ponder the fact that, when I was deciding on a course of study in college, the one career I rejected was teaching. Then, in Liberia, I was pressed into teaching, and loved it. I was lucky enough to have both academic and non-academic teachers after that who were stellar, and I learned as much from them about how to teach as I did about the subject matter.

          When I began varnishing, I had the advantage of an informal apprenticeship for about a year, and learned the value of that, too.

  30. Hello.

    Interesting post. I never was good in maths, but better in languages. When in work life, I used Excel worksheets. In my hands it was a great tool. Yet today, we use it in our statistics and keeping our home accounting updated.

    Have a good day!

    1. I have a friend who uses Excel spreadsheets for everything — even her Christmas card list. They’re a mystery to me, too, although if I felt the need to use one I suppose I could manage it. Like you, I found languages more congenial, although you certainly have gained fluency in more than I did. How many languages do you speak. Just thinking about your blog, I’m sure it must be five or six. Maybe we could call you a language Colossus!

      1. Hi Linda.

        Thank you asking. In addition to English, Spanish, French and Portuguese (Brazilian Portuguese), I speak Swedish. I know quite well also German. You know that my mother tongue is Finnish.

        My wife knows all those which I mentioned plus Russian. :)

            1. That made me smile. The closest I’ve come to speaking a second language was French. I didn’t do so well in Paris, but it got me across the countryside just fine.

  31. How I love the photo of the school. I’ve been there and as I stood there, I wished how I could of attended that school instead of my town school. I was one who didn’t like school and I certainly didn’t excel in math, I hated it!!!
    Thankful that I had enough credits and graduated my junior year!!
    Wonderful post!!

    1. It doesn’t surprise me that you’ve been in this spot, Debra, but I’m delighted that you enjoyed my photo of it. There’s something so appealing about these school buildings, even now, and Kansas is one state that has done a great job of preserving them. I still haven’t posted any of my photos of the Fox Creek school at the Tallgrass prairie, or a few others, but it’s about time to put them together with a post and share them.

      I really liked school, but that math was a stumbling block from the beginning. Good for us that we survived it all, and went on to be competent adults anyway!

        1. It seems I might have a little extra time to put a post together now! I have photos of the inside of the school as well as the outside — it’s really fascinating.

  32. I was a source of great frustration to my teachers. I never did any work I didn’t want to do – mostly this applied to math and science. Then as a junior I switched to the vocational program and studied carpentry for 2 years. But I really was not meant to earn my living as a carpenter. Eventually I found a career that relied heavily on readin’ and writin’.

    1. I suppose the good news is that, in the end, we settled down into spots that suited us. I did smile at the image of you slumped down at your desk and saying (in today’s vernacular), “Nah. I’m good.” while your teachers rolled their eyes. What really tickles me is the amount of math and science that has to be involved in those glorious gardens you produce. We all figure out some of it, once we have a use for it.

  33. I was fairly good at high-school level math, but calculus in college was my downfall. I did see a computer in the 60’s. I was in junior high school, and a parent of one of my classmates brought in a Honeywell computer that was the size of a stove, more or less. The parent was a doctor who used it in medical research. No computers for me until college a few years later. I used them to plot data and compute line fits for my chemistry experiments in my brief career as a science major. So I wouldn’t have to do the linear regression on paper! Computers are so much better at computation than me.

    1. I remember that the first computer I saw was good-sized. It wasn’t a stove, but it sure enough could have been a cabinet sewing machine. By the time I got my first one, the size had been reduced even more, but still — those CRT monitors were beasts. Eventually mine committed suicide by self-immolation, and I modernized. No more dial-up! No more going to make coffee and throw in a load of laundry while a page loaded!

      As for your linear regressions — I was curious enough to look that up, and smart enough to realize how far beyond me it was. However, it did jog my memory in one regard. “Regression to the mean” is a phrase I’ve heard tossed around when people are talking about sports. I haven’t the slightest idea why, but it does add a bit of sophistication to their discussions.

      1. I wrote papers in grad school on a primitive personal computer with a nine-inch screen and stored files on five-inch “floppy” disk that *was* floppy.

        Linear regression is just a matter of finding the best line fit through a scatter of points more or less on a line. There’s a formula for computing it by hand, but I had a simple function that did it for me. No tedious computation, magic.
        “Regress to the mean” in sports usually means reverting from a period of exceptional performance to the players historical average.

        1. Thanks for that explanation about regressing to the mean. That makes sense of a lot of conversations that had been like listening to Nate Silver break down election possibilities. Live and learn!

  34. Very fun… I tried and got close, but no cigar! I am a bit odd, I think, in loving both math and the language arts. I studied chemistry and had a minor in math before theology. I think that the science side of me explains my love for translating Greek, with its puzzle like quality.

    1. I don’t think it’s odd that you’d love both math and language, but it’s certainly a gift to be fluent in both languages. It’s interesting that you refer to translation as a puzzle, too. I like that. As I began reading translated poetry, and particularly when I’d read more than one version, it became clear to me that language isn’t amenable to one-to-one correspondences as often as I’d thought: puzzling through which phrasing is best is a good bit of fun.

  35. I am not getting notices of any of WP blogs so I am going back in my comments of my own blog to find folks. I have tried to resolve it and can’t even pull up the blogs that I follow. It seems I have more problems than Hogan’s goats. Maybe it is Yahoo mail that is filtering them out but the notices are not in spam either.

    Anyhow I found your post about math interesting because math or arithmetic as I think it is also called, was my bane. I just don’t get numbers even though I can do basic math. But the worded stuff is beyond me and in fact I despise math. I passed Algerba 1 and have no idea how I managed to get that course. I made an A in every other subject but just could not get math.

    1. A late but happy St. Patrick’s Day to you, as well as a happy first day of Spring! Things certainly have been chaotic this past week. I hope you’re well supplied, and tucked in with all you need to care for your animals as well as your own self.

      I’m so sorry you’re still having difficulties with WP notifications and such. Here’s a suggestion that may help you. I use a site called Feedly. If you look in my sidebar, you’ll see a place to subscribe to my blogs via RSS, which means ‘Really Simple Syndication.’ Once you join Feedly (which is free) you can simply click that, and you’ll find it in what is, in essence, your Feedly reader.

      What’s nice is that the only things that show up in your Feedly index are things you put there. I have some podcasts there, as well as some Blogger blogs, and a couple of news sites. As you read things, you can mark them ‘unread,’ so only new things pop up, unless you want to go back to a site and find something from the past. It’s really handy, and easy to use. It might get rid of some frustration for you.

      It seems there are more of us who are math-handicapped than I’d realized. Like you, I’ve learned enough to be able to get through life — cooking, sewing, sailing, basic business accounting — but looking at algebraic formulae is rather like confronting Egyptian hieroglyphics: both are oddly appealing, but absolutely indecipherable!

      1. Thank you. Linda and I just now lost a long reply to you or at least I THINK that I did. I I give up for now. If my first reply happened to have gone through, I did not have a chance to edit.. My computer is shifting back and forth from site to site. It apparently has a bug and I need to debug this cotton picking thing. Bear with me if you can and I hope eventually I will have it sorted out.

        1. What a strange thing. I certainly hope you can get all the bugs straightened out. As much as we fuss about our computers, they are useful gadgets, and it can be distressing when they don’t work as they should. I’m just glad to know that you’re around, and apparently doing all right. May all your bugs infect your computer, and not you!

          1. Yes, Indeed. I have a dreaded fear of the “bug” and I am not going anywhere. I am well stocked and my helper goes to the store for me if I must have something. Stay well, Linda and be safe.

    2. Being a buttinski….
      I have had a similar problem a few times, Yvonne. There is a box in the blog’s settings about getting notifications.
      You need to go to your Site Admin, then Users, then Notifications, then at the top of that page select Reader Subscriptions. At the bottom of that page look for the box that says “Block Emails” and make sure it is unchecked then hit Save Notification Settings. Whew. That’s a lot of clicking but it solves my problem with getting notifications of new posts. The problem is it keeps happening. After all that I hope it helped with your problem getting follow notifications.

        1. I haven’t been impressed with the H.E.’s help so far. Even when I tell them the steps I just described to solve the problem they tell me to do what I just did. I guess reading comprehension isn’t a requirement for the job. A bit sarcastic, I guess. And we should keep in mind that it is a free resource for many of us.

      1. Thank you so very much. It is totally strange because today I had notices of posts that I don’t even comment on. You are not a buttinski. I appreciate any and all help that you or anyone else gives me.

  36. ARGH! MATH!

    I joke that, if I didn’t have fingers and toes, I couldn’t count. I’m not quite that bad but I struggled with math. Those word problems! My eye immediately glazed over. They still do, if I am truthful.

    I tried algebra in high school. I failed the first year, took it again the next year. Failed it again. Went to summer school for it. By my calculations (iffy, at best) I had a D. Mrs. J passed me with a C-. Either she graded on a curve or she passed me out of pitty, figuring I’d be there for the rest of my life, otherwise.

    Oh, the wrangles I’d get into with my Dad. He found math a breeze. He’d try to help me with my homework and we’d both get so frustrated. I’d wind up in tears and he’d be yelling, “But it is SO easy.” “No, it’s not” (Sob) Mama would try to mediate.

    Where do I work now? In an accounting office! Go figure.

    I’m going to have that song about the three R’s as an earworm the rest of the day.

    1. I still use my fingers from time to time. It’s probably a sad thing to confess, but especially if I’m in a situation where paper and pencil or a calculator isn’t handy, they can help.

      I really did laugh at your story about your dad trying to help you, with mom standing by to serve as a mediating, calming influence. My dad also was a numbers whiz, and did his best to help me out. He actually had a lot of patience; he was the one who sat with me through all those elementary school flash cards. But once things got complicated, he just wasn’t able to break through whatever it was that made geometry and algebra such brick walls for me.

      Did I ever tell you the story of how I finally learned to balance my checking account? I’ll email that story — I’m not about to confess it publicly!

      Maybe I should enroll in an online math class during our lockdown — or not. I may make a run at learning how to use my photo processing program, instead.

    1. Well, but don’t forget — ‘pitty’ goes with ‘pat.’ That pitty-pat’s what your heart and mine did when we realized we’d finally passed a math test!

  37. I looked up a translation, or better say, an equivalent in Spanish: quintilla humorística. ‘quintilla’ from ‘five’, although of course ‘Limerick’ is also a major city in the Republic of Ireland.

    I can really appreciate your image of the schoolhouse. My father used to work in the historic preservation of monuments. He left me a collection of images of Spanish colonial architecture. It’s amazing how well kept it is.

    As far as some of the school subjects, I pretty much always did well depending on the instructors, which were of course old fashioned in those days. All I can say is that when speaking about math, memory and abstraction come into play. As I also had an older sister, I also felt I had to know what she knew, particularly in academics. I couldn’t bear being behind her in any way I would say.

    1. I was looking around a bit at the history of the limerick, and actually discovered the source of the one in the post that was passed on to me. Look at this, from the site Math Mayhem:

      “It was devised by Leigh Mercer (1893-1977), and appeared in Word Ways, 13, 1, (Feb, 1980), p. 36. Mercer also devised one of the most famous palindromes: “A man, a plan, a canal—Panama.” Mercer’s biography can be found in Word Ways, 24, 3. (August 1991), p. 131-138. He was a London panhandler who drew caricatures on sidewalks for donations.

      12 + 144 + 20 + 3√4
      ——————————————————— + (5 × 11) = 92 + 0


      A dozen a gross and a score,
      Plus three times the square root of four,
      Divided by seven
      Plus five times eleven
      Is nine squared and not a bit more.”

      Apart from finding the source, the most wonderful detail is that he was a panhandling caricaturist. Life can be wonderfully strange at times.

      1. That is fascinating to know. Some of the multitalented must have had to pursue their abilities in such different ways, perhaps because one talent may have been understood (or accepted) more readily than another.

  38. I can definitely identify with that math-phobia. There was no provision for pupils like me, who didn’t get it the first time around (well, other than finding a tutor, which is what I did). My math teacher predicted that most of us would end up selling bananas at a fruit stand, because that was all we could accomplish with our math!

    1. If you were selling bananas today — especially wholesale — you might be doing very well. They’re one of the most virus-resistant fruits around. Silly math teachers!

      It’s too bad you can’t go back and annoy your teacher with this old song from the 1920s that I grew up hearing family members sing — “Yes, We Have No Bananas”. It was included in the movie Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, and has lasted long enough to be included on the Muppet show. That’s a fruit with staying power!

        1. Every now and then my mother would break out the phrase. I never knew what triggered it, but something would — and after telling me we had no bananas, she’d giggle like a fourteen year old.

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