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Chopsticks and pie

Updated on January 3, 2018
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I have been teaching mathematics in an Australian High School since 1982, and I am a contributing author to many mathematics text books.


Stealing Chopsticks Is Wrong

Tom was passionately explaining some aspect of psychology. "Ultimately, our behaviour as teachers is a self-fulfilling prophecy. A classic study of Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs."

"Huh?" I teased. Tom teaches psychology and, when excited, is prone to erudition. We were drinking coffee in the staffroom amidst a cornucopia of gossip, rumour and regrets. We were also immune to the cacophony of sounds authored by a phalanx of teachers dispensing their professional duties. The ambience was one of urgency rather than a venue for calm chaos. The bell sounded, reminding me of a lesson I had not prepared.

Twenty pairs of eyes stared intently at me the moment I entered the room. I was dressed as a chef, complete with chef's hat and neckerchief. A Fu Manchu moustache completed my persona. I unfolded a tablecloth from a bag I had with me and placed it on the floor.

With a strong oriental accent I began chanting, Ad Infinitum plus one,Ummm, Ad Infinitum plus one, Ummm....

Then without warning I thrust both hands in the bag, grabbed its contents and tossed them high in the air. A myriad of bamboo chopsticks flew out and performed aerial gymnastics as they cascaded downwards.

"Me much need now two volunteers," I requested with a heavy accent, at the same time gesturing with both of my index fingers. All hands shot up. Everyone wanted a role in my histrionics.

"Vely vely good. Me choose Steve and Rosa. Steve, you count all chopsticks and tell me number. Rosa, please tell me chopstick numbers how much land on the tablecloth's yellow stripes."

Steve and Rosa arranged themselves around the tablecloth as if they were having a picnic. Steve opted for the brute force approach. He thrust a finger at every stick and grunted 1, 2, 3,. Rosa displayed finesse. Only the barest movement of her eyes betrayed her purpose.

"Thirty-five," Steve said shortly.

"I counted twenty-three, sir," Rosa added. Both returned to their seats.

"Me go to Chinese restaurant last night," I revealed. "Made me think too much, eh?"

"Do you often do that?" Jimmy asked.

"Me go to restaurant many times," I informed him.

"No, sir, I mean do you often think?"

"It is old Chinese saying, he who mocks teacher fails subject," I said, maintaining the accent.

"How did eating in a restaurant last night get you thinking?" prompted Helda, the most incisive thinker of the group.

She was assisted in her inquisition by Teng who remarked, "What's that got to do with math, anyway?"

"Confucius say, he who is patient will inherit egg," I replied. "Restaurant tablecloth similar to this one. Length of chopstick same as width between stripes. Now you understand, eh? American eagle fly flee when libellated. I libellate chopsticks to use for you now."

I quelled several accusative cries of "thief" and begged to be allowed to continue my discourse uninterrupted.

"Nearly 300 years, maybe little more, French mathematician, vely, vely clever man, his name Comte de Buffon, found vely, vely clever way to estimate pi. You know pi, the number 3.14159. Go forever, this pi number, right?" I said, teasing my moustache between my fingers.

Jimmy raised his hand. "Sir, do you mean that a buffoon became famous by playing with chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant in France 300 years ago?"

I knew the aftershock was imminent. And then it came as Jimmy added pityingly, "Sir, don't you know that stealing chopsticks is wrong."

"You please, Jimminy cricket, say of clever man his name is pronounced Bew-fon," I said, ignoring his allegations of criminality, insanity and the historical anachronism.

"Now, please everyone you listen. Monsieur Buffon say that if you divide twice the total number of chopsticks by chopsticks that fall on stripe, it will give you goodly approximation to pi."

I grabbed an abacus I had in the bag. "Me have 35 chopsticks and 23 of them fall on stripes. So ratio is 70/23 or 3.04. This is good start. If use more sticks, must get better."

"It's a coincidence", Francesca decided.

"You want maybe try again?" I challenged. "Do another go?"

More trials were conducted with similar results. There were accusations of skulduggery.

Helda finally conceded. "What's the trick?" she asked.

"Honourable ancestors tell me mantra!" I replied. "Ad Infinitum plus one, Ummm. Much magic."

Helda placed a hand over her mouth to suppress laughter, but the action was an invitation to the rest of the class. Order was eventually restored.

"Confucius say, he who no eat has empty stomach. Now we order Chinese?"

I took of my chef's hat, held in upside down and walked between the tables calling out like a town crier...

"Show me money. You no pay, you no eat! Chinese yum yum, ..."

And the lesson proper ended.


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