How I Remember Math

Things have been rather serious around the old Shatner Chatner as of late, and while I don’t at all mind being more reflective, I do want to assure old readers of this newsletter that I still know how to have a good time. I don’t intend to make a joke of innumeracy here; I understand why math is important and I respect her greatly, like a dowager empress. I just wish the broader world knew the moral toll math takes upon the fevered workings of my brain before making demands of me.
I don’t advise you to learn math in the same way, obviously. I merely offer this as an insight into what happens to me when I am asked to produce maths. (Full disclosure: Grace provided me with all of the following math problems, because I couldn’t think of any on my own.)
7 x 35
Hah! An easy one. Child’s play. I remember memorizing my times table (my tabled times?) in the third grade, and holding the 7 x 5 cue card onstage for the school assembly about times tables. Which makes 35, of course. So one must just do that 7 more times. And two 35s are 70. Two 70s are 140. What’s one more 35 between friends? 175.
I have checked my work with a calculator and somehow the answer is 245. I can now see that’s because I mixed up the number 7 with the number 5 — a deadly, but probably very common and understandable, error. You see that I am relatable in my humanness, like Dr. Manhattan on the recent Watchmen series. Moving on!
99 / 3
It has to be 33. It absolutely has to be 33. (It is!) I did pretty well in geometry and Algebra I when I was a young person. I could speak readily, if not confidently, of angles and graphemes and integers and so on. Precalculus absolutely knocked the wind out of me, but then I’m only human.
17 x 15
Oh dear – two double numbers. I’m out of my depth. The human mind was not built for such deep computations, such robust rotations of the cube that holds all the numbers in it. 17 and 10 are 170, no? And half of 170 is 85. So 170 plus 85 – which is 30 plus 170, making 200, plus what’s left which is 55, making 255 – it must be 255. Let’s check it!
YES!
6 + 26
I felt insulted by something so easy at this point, and told Grace so. It’s 32. I know what 32 is — it’s four years younger than she is. (Grace: “Leave that in. It’s funny, and it makes you look juvenile.”)
2 x 8  4 / 3
Fogged and pettifogged. I can’t remember the order of operations anymore; all I can remember is FOIL. So according to that principle — First Outside Inside Last, which I know doesn’t apply here because there aren’t any parentheses — I proceed, grimly and knowing myself to be in the wrong already.
“Before I proceed, do you know what 2 x 8  4 / 3 is?”
“Yes. It’s very easy.”
“Is it four?”
“It is four!”
Masterful. I have lounged myself casually across a great hurdle meant to stymie me.
“Do you want another one?”
“Yeah, but it has to be — it has to be regular.”
“What do you mean, regular?”
“You know what I mean.”
8 + 5
Which I take as an insult, and refuse to answer. It’s the principle of the thing. My head is simply swirling with maths, and I’m the little headache in between all of the numbers.
But...it's not 4. In the absence of parentheses, you do multiplication and division before you do addition and subtraction, so it's (2x8)(4/3) = 161.333333 = 14.666667
So a lot of people intuitively approach math this way, and this is kind of how they teach it now (via the muchmaligned common core) and I firmly believe that if I had been taught this way  some actually processes and rigor around the intuitive approach  I might be able to do math now.