In my labors to become less bad at math I encountered the word *subitize.* I had not known this was a word, but apparently there are five-year-olds who do.

I’ve been trying to learn combinatorics (another word I’d not known existed). That binomial coefficient, man: exclamation points, n choose k … Pete choose headache!

I’ve read a few books on math now and am distressed that my childhood experience replicates in middle age: math is easy at first, quickly gets very difficult, and not long thereafter loses me completely.

E.g. I’m reading *Mathematician’s Delight* (on the strength of its title and groovy cover). The author was a British professor of mathematics, and he has a kindly, assured tone that makes it seem like he’s invited me over for a fireside chat.

It starts off well:

Professor: *Owing to the accidental fact that we possess ten fingers, the multiplication tables depend on this number 10. If we had eight or ten fingers, the patterns would be different.*

Pete: [sips port, chuckles amiably]* Quite right!*

But in a few pages he’s talking about a fire-watching rota:

Professor: *How long will it be before Alf and Bill are again on duty together? Alf and Charlie? Bill and Charlie?*

Pete: [drains glass] *Uh, can I have a pencil and paper? And what’s a fire-watching rota?*

And then Alf and Charlie start wrapping ropes around posts to lower an injured comrade:

Professor: *Now what will happen if we wind 0.301 of a turn on one post, and then 0.477 on the next?*

Pete: [asks for coat]

See also: Let’s Get Lost 1