Word Problems

I’m pretty lousy at math, so I’m constantly in awe of (and subsequently bewildered by) my son who adores math and has–thus far–not been stumped by anything. Yeah, he’s only in the 8th grade, but, dear reader, my mathematical bandwidth for helping with homework was maxed out about 2 years ago. Now, when his math problems include letters and numbers, it’s safe to say that Jack’s abilities have far surpassed mine.

The other day I asked Jack what he was working on; when he said word problems, I shivered and had a little PTSD attack. Word problems in Algebra I were (are?) my absolute nemesis. I watched as Jack methodically tackled his work without complaint. I was impressed.

I was also confused.

I asked him to show me a problem.

My hands twitched. My brain melted. I felt like I was going to cry.

So now, I present to you “Algebra I Homework–with Useless Assistance by Mom,” by Mom.

(Those of you who are as math-averse as I am might need to take a Benadryl or two before continuing.)



This one is so obviously simple. For starters, if Charlie needs to guess on over 1/3 of the questions on a multiple choice test, Charlie needs to study more. Where are his parents? They are clearly slacking off in the helicoptering/micromanagement department of their son’s education. At this rate, Charlie better start apprenticing at the local auto repair shop.

(a) History is clearly not Charlie’s strong suit. Or perhaps his teacher is just a dinosaur who recycles his morbidly dull lectures from 1985, drinks stale coffee at his podium while rubbing his tattered suede elbow patches, and daydreams about his upcoming retirement. We’ve all had teachers like that. This one’s not on Charlie. Snap to it, History teacher. Punch up those lectures a little; maybe add some YouTube videos or something. Your monotonous ramblings have lulled your class into a coma.

(b) Charlie’s English class must be studying literary devices, and his teacher is obviously making a point to her class about hyperbole because no English teacher in the history of mankind would give a test with 80 questions on it. Kudos to Charlie for knowing the answers to 40 of the questions. He must have lost focus or stamina on the second half of the test. Time for his parents to revisit his current med dosage. Problem solved.

(c) The saving grace of this little foray into Charlie’s academic life is that Chuck here is a math wizard. Of the 5x questions, he didn’t know the answer to x of them. First of all, x isn’t a number; it’s a letter. This is a math class, not an English class. The teacher must have made a typo. And for once, Charlie isn’t guessing. We know he can answer at least 40 questions correctly (See, English, above), so answering 5 questions is well-within his attention threshold. Charlie made a 100. Way to go, Charlie. You just pulled your GPA up enough to go to the local community college.


This question was pulled from either a Farmer’s Almanac or The Hipster’s Guide to Overtaking the Universe One Organic Garden at a Time.  You would think someone with even a modicum of agrarian knowledge would also have a grip on the Gregorian calendar. Last time I checked, there were 31 days in July. This question is jacking around with the space-time continuum, which is scarier than word problems themselves. (See, Back to the Future.) Additionally, our farmer friends would know that a zucchini grows best in temperatures hovering around 70 degrees, a situation which does not occur in August. Not only has an entire 24-hour period up and disappeared, but the Earth has also been knocked off its axis or something. How many times did it rain in August? Who cares? Better harvest those nuclear zucchini now and catch up on your binge watching of Doomsday Preppers, for the end of the world is nigh. #OccupyTheBombShelter



Wait a second. Is this a question from the Multistate Bar Exam? How have we shifted from 8th grade mathematics to law school? Counsel needs to know which state’s law is applicable here. Counsel also needs to know the last time said police officer calibrated said radar device. Counsel believes Marlon and Marilyn (“the Defendants”) were victims of an unjustified speed trap.

(a) Marlon (“Defendant A”) has been accused of traveling 62 in a 45. He was in a hurry. Maybe his wife was in labor. Maybe he was freaking out because July 31 had disappeared from his calendar. Either reason is entirely justifiable. I’m willing to bet the police here have a heart (or are equally as spooked by the vanishing day) and give Defendant A a police escort to his destination. No fine.

(b) Insert S-car-go/snail joke here.

(c) Marilyn (“Defendant B”) was given a $228 speeding ticket? Dang, girl. Lead foot, much? Super Speeder violation? (Counsel apologizes for her digression.) In the spirit of the Socratic method utilized by law schools around the country in order to crush the souls of all would-be attorneys, let’s IRAC this one:

Issue: How fast was Defendant B traveling?

Rule: A speeder is fined $12 for every mile over the speed limit.

Analysis: If the speed limit is 45 miles per hour, then a driver is allowed to travel only 45 miles in one (1) hour. The rule of law states that one is fined for every mile over the speed limit. This statute’s employment of the word “mile” instead of the words “mile per hour” renders it vague, ambiguous, and indefinite. The imprecise verbiage of the statute implies that one’s ability to relocate him/herself is limited to an area no larger than a 45 mile radius within one (1) 60 minute period of time and does not address the actual velocity of said relocation. As such, due to its cryptic and imprecise verbiage, the statute is void.

Conclusion: How fast was Defendant B traveling? Not fast enough if the po-po caught her.


The take-away from all of this?

(By the way, if I’d seen this paragraph on the 8th page of my Algebra book, I’d have viewed it as a winning lottery ticket; the authors have all but admitted that these problems are IMPOSSIBLE.)


Jack’s take on this disclaimer? “They forgot to add ‘do not, under any circumstances, ask your English major mother for help on your math homework’.”

I’m hoping that means I have garnered a Hall Pass on all future math assistance. For all 3 boys.

(One can hope, right?)







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