Fuzzy Math

Sep 12, 2015

RAY: On a recent Saturday afternoon, I saw a boy and his mother at the neighborhood diner where I often go for lunch. From my vantage point I could see they were working on some arithmetic problems. The problems seemed simple enough and the kid was getting all the correct answers. For example, the first one was 25 + 8 and he wrote down 33. And the next one was 12 + 5 and he wrote down 17. The next was 35 + 13 and he wrote 48.

Then his mother posed the last two problems. 45 - 8. The boy said 47 but I thought the answer was 37. The next one was 42 + 15. The boy said 43. I thought it should have been 57. His mother accepted both of those answers. When I saw how the kid was dressed, I did too. What was going on?

RAY: What was the kid wearing? A football uniform.

So when the question was 45 minus 8 and the kid answered 47, it was because if his team was on the opponent's 45 yard line, and lost 8 yards, they would be back at their own 47 yard line. Similarly if they were on their 42 yard line and gained 15 yards, they wouldn't be on the 57 yard line. They'd be on the opponent's 43 yard line.

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