About Me

Twenty years ago I asked a Tarot card reader what would I be doing when I was 50. She replied, “I see you doing something so wildly creative, it defies a job title.” Only recently did I realize that was a slick way of saying, “I have no idea of what you’ll be doing.” But that prediction kept me charging ahead to the fifties with zeal and anticipation. Now that the future is today, I’m ready for anything!

A confectionery conundrum

I took algebra back in the eighth grade and still remember this story problem. Prices have been adjusted for inflation.
How many pounds of $4.00 a pound candy and how many pounds of $2.99 a pound candy would a confectioner need to make 20 pounds of $3.50 a pound candy?
I never got the answer.  Apparently I wasn't alone. In 1969 the candy conundrum made its appearance in The Bill Cosby Show,  a thoughtful gem of a sitcom with a brief, two-season shelf life. Cosby played Chet Kincaid, a groovy bachelor who coached high school basketball. One episode riffed on the classic job switching scenario. Kincaid scoffed at the complaints of his fellow teachers, telling them they had it easy. Sure I could teach a class, Kincaid told the algebra teacher. If I got stumped I'd just call on the smartest kid in class for the answer.
Sure enough, one Friday Kincaid was asked to be a substitute algebra teacher. The candy problem came up. Even the smartest kid in class was stumped. And Chet's offended colleagues were gleefully uncooperative. He spent the weekend trying to figure out the problem, even buying pounds and pounds of candy to replicate the problem.
My son Wyatt is taking eighth grade algebra. In order to help with homework I need to know what I'm doing. Some evenings we work at a problem separately and compare our answers. It's actually enjoyable. Wrestling with integers balances my mental equilibrium after a a day of wrestling with words.
Danica McKellar  has authored a series of books to help girls overcome math phobia, Math Doesn't Suck and Kiss My Math. Once you get past the girly-girl references, they're actually pretty helpful for boys too -- and parents. We've already added her latest book, Hot X: Algebra Exposed  to the family library.
When Wyatt starts studying mixtures in algebra, I know what I'll say. "Well, well. My old nemesis, Mr. Confectioner. We meet again." Will he be surprised.

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