Forget Jack Bauer! Give this 24 a try.

Geek Culture

Sure a show in which one tough guy makes life and death decisions while testing the limits of our Constitution in a contrived 24 episode story arc can be quite exciting. In a Fox television world gone mad, agent Jack Bauer looks like our only hope. However, I gotta say that our real world has other problems that could use the application and dedication of some of our future
GeekKids. For the last couple of years, the United States has ranked in the the twenties when it comes to Math and Science. Being that the GeekDad audience is international, I heartily congratulate the Finns, Koreans, and
Japanese (among many others) that are kicking our tails, but I hope we can raise the bar and make this interesting for all of us. How’s that for international intrigue?

Enter the 24 Game.

No, it’s not a collectible card game about our illustrious antihero whose friends and family groan when he says he’s heading for work. Wouldn’t you if it meant your day was going to be just as bad in order to further his plot points and ratchet up the tension?

The 24 Game is a math game created by Inventor Robert Sun in 1988 in an effort to engage kids in grades one through nine in math education that was both challenging and fun. Nineteen years later and the 24 Game has expanded into nine editions and add-on products.  It has been used in over half a million classrooms worldwide.  It has spawned the 24 Challenge math tournaments and recently added an online game subscription option that allows players to compete against teams worldwide.

The basics of the 24 Game are simple.
Each edition of the 24 Game consists of a set of 48 or 96 square cardboard tiles. Each tile has four numbers on it that, according to the rules of a particular edition, must all be mathematically manipulated so that the end result is the number twenty four. There is often more than one way (some have as many as a dozen) to get the answer and depending on the difficulty level of the card, indicated by one, two or three dots along the tile’s edges, can take some time. The first person (or team) to calculate twenty four using the addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division of each number (used only once!) wins the card and the number of points as indicated by the difficulty of the card ranking (one, two, or three, respectively).

So how does this play out?  Let’s look at the
Single Digit edition of the cards that my wife photographed for this post.


The easiest (single dot) card consists of a 3, a 9, a 9, and a 9. One easy solution is to add the three nines together and then subtract the single three, giving us twenty four after using every number on the card (9 + 9 = 18, 18 + 9 =27, 27 – 3 = 24).

The next card is rated with a difficulty of two dots. It consists of a 1, a 4, a 9, and a 7. After a bit of a struggle followed by a "well duh!" moment, my wife and I found that we could get twenty four, by first subtracting one from nine, leaving eight, then subtracting four from seven, leaving three, and then multiplying three times eight (9 – 1 = 8, 7 – 4 = 3, 3 * 8 = 24).

What I like about the 24 game is that it challenges the players to look at numbers and their relationships to each other in a different way.  Add bunch of skill, a little luck, and the thrill of competition and you’re one step closer to crossing the hurdle from math is boring or hard to it being interesting, challenging and fun.  There aren’t many steps from the puzzle and challenge of the 24 game to the fun and challenge of cryptography and crypto-analysis.

I’ll leave the third, most difficult card, consisting of a 2, a 4, a 7, and a 9, to the GeekDad readers out there to solve. As a bonus see if you can come up with more solutions for the other cards. The future of math proficiency in the world may depend on it!

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