Let’s Get Lost 2


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