I was working on a play once, and the director needed to thread a rope through the hem of a huge scrim, maybe 30 meters across. He had tied a knot in the end of the rope, and was coaxing it along, a bit at a time, by squishing it through the fabric. A very slow and frustrating endeavor. Then he spied me watching, and said "hey, you don't look busy, you can thread this rope!"

So I pulled the rope back out, which rather boggled and distressed him, then grabbed a broomstick and tied the rope through the hole in it. Then I arranged the rope for easy unwinding without tangling, put the end of the broomstick into the hem, got all lined up, and then pitched the broomstick down the hem, javelin style. It made it most of the way to the other end in one go, and then I could scrunch and pull the broomstick almost a meter at a time, getting it out the other end in just a couple of operations.

The look on the director's face was priceless. On the one hand, he was thrilled the wretched job was done. On the other hand, I had utterly shown him up.

My mom was going back to school to prepare to re-enter the workforce, and we ended up deciding to take the same math class. After a few weeks, the teacher called us both in. She explained that she was a little curious how we did things. We always sat together, and had the same surname, and when she'd hand out a test, she'd get back a lot of copies of essentially the approach she'd just taught, and two oddballs, from us. At first she thought we were copying from each other, but then she noticed our solutions were not only unrelated to what she was teaching, but to each other.

For example, she pulled out our most recent test, which contained a problem involving proving that the four points provided were the corners of a square. I had done something involving line lengths and reciprocal slopes. My mom had shown that the diagonals were the same length and perpendicular. Whereupon I pointed out that this didn't constitute a proof of squareness - unless the diagonals were perpendicular bisectors, you could have a figure known as a "kite", not a square. The teacher was boggled she hadn't even seen the flaw in the reasoning, but let my mom keep the credit for her answer.



November 2013

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