One of the most famous stumbling blocks and hated part of math classes is that known as "story problems" [a.k.a word problems]. But that's where the real action is and should be better promoted and encouraged in math education.

     But one of my favorite parts of this literary side of math might be called "Poetry Math". Here the problem is presented in the form of a poem. Below are some of my personal favorites. I hope you enjoy solving them, or at least just reading them.

1.		The Spider and the Fly

	'Come right into my parlour,' said
	   The spider to the fly,
	'And answer one small question, please,
	   Unless you want to die.
	I've eaten scores of flies, of course,
	   But tell me if you dare:
	If females had two more, and males
	   But half their present share,
	How many flies like that, d'you think,
	   I really would require,
	To give me twenty-eight fly legs,
	   The number I desire?'

[J.A.H. Hunter, Fun with Figures.  Dover Pub. 1965.  p. 3]

2. A Tale of the Cats The lucky cats in Stratton Street Had seven mice apiece to eat. The rest made do With only two: The total score Being twenty-four. How many cats ate mousie meat? [J.A.H. Hunter, Fun with Figures. Dover Pub. 1965. p. 47]
3. An Ugly Monster A freak, a most unusual pike, Was caught at Jackson's Point by Mike. This fish was ugly, huge and strong, With head alone twelve inches long. Its body equalled, so Mike said, Just half its tail plus twice its head: A third the monster's total length Was tail, grotesque, but built for strength. So now maybe you'd like to see How long this curious fish would be. [J.A.H. Hunter, More Fun with Figures.]
4. What's What? Take five times which plus half of what, And make the square of what you've got. Divide by one-and-thirty square, To get just four -- that's right, it's there. Now two more points I must impress: Both which and what are fractionless, And what less which is not a lot: Just two or three. So now, what's what? [source lost]
5. Their Birthday It's their birthday, you see, The same for all three, It's strange but it's perfectly true. There's Bertie and Ben Who differ by ten; Eight years older than one there is Sue. Double one brother, Plus treble the other, Plus Sue's age makes seventy-two. From what's on this page You can find the girl's age. It's really quite easy to do. [J.A.H. Hunter, Fun with Figures. Dover Pub. 1965. p. 67]
Send e-mail.
Back to
Go back to
Home Page
Go back to