Maths Mystery Box 1: Not Stupid

April 10, 2015

Maths Mystery BOX 1

Not stupid. Just, like, lazy.

Mathspig averages quote

I use the quote above to explain to people that Averages don’t mean much. This is a typical response. Really! Wow! Australians have one breast and one testicle!

We live in a culture of Selective Stupidity. Most people can do the basic maths of: + – x % $$$$, but many don’t bother. We leave maths thinking to machines and their algorithms.


So you buy 4 choc bars at 50 cents each and, for fun, ask the shop assistant ‘how much?’ They work the answer out on the cash register. They have to record the purchase. Still, how hard would it be to say $2? We don’t even try.

Yet we need maths every day to buy stuff, read timetables, pay bills, cook, understand food labels, take medication and more. Maths is used in sport, driving, gaming, gambling, drinking (ie. alcohol levels) and banking; maths is used in the workplace, the law, politics, advertising, fitness, the travel industry, gardening, the music industry (Royalty payments are a big issue now), watching TV (Download speeds are crucial), Facebook (How many likes?) and more.

The UK maths-promoting charity National Numeracy quotes from research suggesting ‘weak maths skills are linked with an array of poor life outcomes such as prison, unemployment, exclusion from school, poverty and long-term illness’. (Judith Burns, Poor numeracy ‘blights the economy and ruins lives‘, BBC News, 5 March 2012)

Yeah! And ….

Mathspig hot date quote

Josie Gurney-Read in an article Damaging maths mindset holding pupils back,( The Telegraph, UK, 30 Oct 2014) claimed 17 million adults in the UK have poor maths skills and this is costing the economy £20 billion a year.

£20 billion,eh?

The previous article by Judith Burns, above, quoted research by KPMG auditors that put the annual costs of poor numeracy skills in the UK at £2.4bn.

So £2.4 billion, is it?

Who’s doing the Maths HERE?

Who cares? We let these numbers just fly past without thinking about them. We choose to suffer from Selective Stupidity.

To challenge middle school students to think about the numbers they read here are a few tricky questions:

the maths quiz

Look at the following questions and see if you can work out why the maths is totally dodgy.

1. Dumb and Dumber

doll solar

Solar Plus claimed, after a survey of 60 customers, that 99.98% of customers would recommend their product.

What’s wrong with their Maths?

Answer here.

2. Wanna get rich? Look at the Graph, Dude!

Financial advisers around the world wheeled out graphs like the one below to show that investing in the stock market is very secure and that down turns in the market in 2007 were minor. Oh Yeah!

What is wrong with this graph!

Mathspig Maths Mystery Box 1 graph

Answer here.

3. Run a Red Light. 0.9 sec! $234 fine! Is that fair?


Look at the maths. How far would a Mazda 3 travelling at 60 kph (37.3 mph) travel in 0.9 seconds? 

Ans here.

4. Can you out run a fireball?

This is a Movie Cliché we see over and over. But is it possible?

Maths Mystery Box 1  outrun fireball

A Fireball travels at 400 m/sec. That’s metres/sec. Now can you do the maths?

Answer here.

5. You could win the lottery! The least drawn numbers are ….


If the least drawn numbers are 41, 32, 10, 43, 35 and 20 will picking these numbers improve your chances of winning the lottery?

Answer here.

6. The Equation for the Funniest Joke is:

According to The Telegraph UK the formula for the funniest joke is:

x = (fl + no ) / p


x = funniness of joke

f = funniness of punchline

l = the length of the build-up

n = the amount some falls over

o = the “Ouch” factor of physical pain or social embarrassment

p = power of the punchline

So, what’s wrong with this equation? Ask Weird Al Yankovic.

MAD Magazine Weird Al Marker Tooth_54dce7ae29a8f0.26429747

Ans here.

(Quick Ans: It’s all rubbish. Guess work x cow manure = bulldust. You cannot measure any of these variables. What’s the unit for measuring funniness?)

7. Coconuts kill 150 people a year. Does that sound right?


OK. You are not a crazy death-by-coconut research scientists. But have a guess. Are coconuts that dangerous?

Answer here.

8. 9 out of 10 serial killers prefer murdering kids with Emo hair.


Does this sound reasonable?

Answer here.

Quick Answer: There’s a lot of joke maths out there but some folk take it seriously.


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