Category Archives: Activities

Puzzle: Crystal Ball Connection Patterns

K4 matchings

In the land of Fantasia, where people communicate by crystal ball, Wizard Mathys has been placed in charge of keeping the crystal connections clean and clear. He decides to figure out how many different ways people might talk to each other, assuming there’s no such thing as a crystal conference call.

Mathys sketches a diagram of four Fantasian friends and their crystal balls. At the top, you can see all the possible connections, but no one is talking to anyone else because it’s naptime. Fantasians take their siesta very seriously. That’s one possible state of the 4-crystal system.

On the second line of the diagram, Joe (in the middle) wakes up from siesta and calls each of his friends in turn. Then the friends take turns calling each other, bringing the total number of possible connection-states up to seven.

Finally, Wizard Mathys imagines what would happen if one friend calls Joe at the same time as the other two are talking to each other. That’s the last line of the diagram: three more possible states. Therefore, the total number of conceivable communication configurations for a 4-crystal system is 10.

For some reason Mathys can’t figure out, mathematicians call the numbers that describe the connection pattern states in his crystal ball communication system Telephone numbers.

TheWizardBySeanMcGrath-small

  • Can you help Wizard Mathys figure out the Telephone numbers for different numbers of people?
    T(0) = ?
    T(1) = ?
    T(2) = ?
    T(3) = ?
    T(4) = 10 connection patterns (as above)
    T(5) = ?
    T(6) = ?
    and so on.

Hint: Don’t forget to count the state of the system when no one is on the phone crystal ball.


Feature photo at top of post by Christian Schnettelker (web designer) and wizard photo by Sean McGrath via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0) This puzzle was originally featured in the Math Teachers At Play (MTaP) math education blog carnival: MTaP #76.


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Math Game: Fan Tan (Sevens)

Feature photo above by Morgan (meddygarnet) via Flicker (CC BY 2.0).

Math Concepts: sorting by attribute (card suits), counting up, counting down, standard rank of playing cards (aces low).
Players: two or more, best with four to six.
Equipment: one complete deck of cards (including face cards), or a double deck for more than six players. Provide a card holder for young children.

How to Play

Deal out all the cards, even if some players get more than others. The player to the dealer’s left begins by playing a seven of any suit. If that player does not have a seven, then the play passes left to the first player who does.

After that, on your turn you may lay down another seven or play on the cards that are already down. If you cannot play, say, “Pass.”

Once a seven is played in any suit, the six and the eight of that suit may be played on either side of it, forming the fan. Then the five through ace can go on the six in counting-down order, and the nine through king can go on the eight, counting up. You can arrange these cards to overlap each other so the cards below are visible, or you can square up the stacks so only the top card is seen.

A Fan Tan game in progress.
A Fan Tan game in progress.

Players do not need to wait for both the six and eight of a suit to be played before they begin building the fan up or down.
The first player to run out of cards wins the game.

If you want to keep score, count the cards remaining in your hand after one player goes out. After everyone has had a turn as dealer, whoever has the lowest total score is the champion.

Variations

In some traditions, play always begins with the seven of diamonds, so whoever has that card goes first.

Domino Tan

The player to the dealer’s left may lead any card, and then all the suits must start with that number (instead of with seven) and build up and down from there.

Fan Tan Trumps

When the dealer gets to the end of the deck and there aren’t enough cards to give every player one more, the last few cards are turned face up and may be played by anyone as needed. The suit of the last card becomes the trump suit, and cards of that suit may be played on any of the fans, with the card they replace going on the trumps fan. In this case, the cards must be laid out in overlapping rows, not stacked up, so everyone can see where the trumps have gone.

For instance, if spades are trump, then a nine of spades could be played on the eight of hearts, which would leave the nine of hearts without a home—so it has to go on the spades fan.

Exceptions: The seven of the trump suit starts its own fan, like any other seven, and the last card dealt (the one that named the trump suit) must also be played to the trumps fan when its turn comes.

Crazy Tan

Deal only seven cards to each player, and set the rest of the deck out as a draw pile. The first player who cannot play must draw one, which he may play if possible. If not, and the next player also cannot play, she must draw two. If neither of those cards will play, and the next player has nothing to play, he must draw three, and so on, each player drawing one more card than the last person. When one of the players is finally able to lay down a card, this resets the draw count back to zero.

In Crazy Tan, players are allowed to lay down a run (playing several cards in a row of the same suit on a single turn). Or they may play parallel cards (cards of the same rank in different suits, all played in the same turn). Or a player may even lay down parallel runs, if the cards happen to work out that way.

History

Fan Tan may also be called Crazy Sevens. Like any folk game, it is played by a variety of rules around the world. If you search for it on the Internet, you may run into an unrelated Chinese gambling game called Fan Tan, which is similar to Roulette.


Counting-Games

This post is an excerpt from my book Counting & Number Bonds: Math Games for Early Learners, available now in bookstores all over the Internet.


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Math Games with Factors, Multiples, and Prime Numbers

Students can explore prime and non-prime numbers with two free favorite classroom games: The Factor Game (pdf lesson download) or Tax Collector. For $15-20 you can buy a downloadable file of the beautiful, colorful, mathematical board game Prime Climb. Or try the following game by retired Canadian math professor Jerry Ameis:

Factor Finding Game

FactorFindingGame

Math Concepts: multiples, factors, composite numbers, and primes.
Players: only two.
Equipment: pair of 6-sided dice, 10 squares each of two different colors construction paper, and the game board (click the image to print it, or copy by hand).

On your turn, roll the dice and make a 2-digit number. Use one of your colored squares to mark a position on the game board. You can only mark one square per turn.

  • If your 2-digit number is prime, cover a PRIME square.
  • If any of the numbers showing are factors of your 2-digit number, cover one of them.
  • BUT if there’s no square available that matches your number, you lose your turn.

The first player to get three squares in a row (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) wins. Or for a harder challenge, try for four in a row.


Feature photo at top of post by Jimmie via flickr (CC BY 2.0). This game was featured in the Math Teachers At Play (MTaP) math education blog carnival: MTaP #79. Hat tip: Jimmie Lanley.


Tabletop Academy PressGet monthly math tips and activity ideas, and be the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions. Sign up for my Tabletop Academy Press Updates email list.


They’re Here! Math You Can Play Weekend Sale

Finally, the first two books of my math games series are finished and loaded up on Amazon.com (and the other Amazons worldwide). To celebrate, I’m offering an introductory sale price this weekend: US$2.99 per book, now through Monday.

Math Your Kids WANT To Do

Are you tired of flashcards and repetitive worksheets? Now your children can practice their math skills by playing games.

Math games pump up mental muscle, reduce the fear of failure, and develop a positive attitude toward mathematics. Through playful interaction, games strengthen a child’s intuitive understanding of numbers and build problem-solving strategies. Mastering a math game can be hard work, but kids do it willingly because it is fun.

Counting & Number Bonds: Math Games for Early Learners, Preschool to 2nd Grade

Counting-Games

Counting & Number Bonds features 21 kid-tested games, offering a variety of challenges for preschool and early-elementary learners. Young children can play with counting and number recognition while they learn the basic principle of good sportsmanship, to respond gracefully whether they win or lose. Older students will explore place value, build number sense, and begin practicing the math facts.

Buy now at:

Addition & Subtraction: Number Games for Elementary Students, Kindergarten to 4th Grade

Addition-Games600x800

Addition & Subtraction features 22 kid-tested games, offering a variety of challenges for elementary-age students. Children will strengthen their understanding of numbers and develop mental flexibility by playing with addition and subtraction, from the basic number facts to numbers in the hundreds and beyond. Logic games build strategic thinking skills, and dice games give students hands-on experience with probability.

Buy now at:

Don’t Have a Kindle?

You don’t need a Kindle device to read Amazon ebooks. Click here to download the Kindle program for your computer, phone, or tablet.

For those of you who prefer to buy ebooks from iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc.‌—‌those versions are coming soon! The epub book format takes a bit more work, but I’m hoping for time to finish it up within a week or so.

Paperback editions are also in the works.


Featured photo above by Richard Riley via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).


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Math Game: Thirty-One

Math Concepts: addition to thirty-one, thinking ahead.
Players: best for two.
Equipment: one deck of math cards.

How to Play

Lay out the ace to six of each suit in a row, face up and not overlapping, one suit above another. You will have one column of four aces, a column of four twos, and so on‌—‌six columns in all.

The first player flips a card upside down and says its number value. Players alternate, each time turning down one card, mentally adding its value to the running total, and saying the new sum out loud. The player who exactly reaches thirty-one, or who forces the next player to go over that sum, wins the game.

31-Game

Variation

For a shorter game, use only the ace to four of each suit. Play to a target sum of twenty-two.

History (and a Puzzle)

Thirty-One comes from British mathematician Henry Dudeney’s classic book, The Canterbury Puzzles. According to Dudeney, “This is a game that used to be (and may be to this day, for aught I know) a favourite means of swindling employed by card-sharpers at racecourses and in railway carriages.”

Dudeney challenges his readers to find a rule by which a player can always win: “Now, the question is, in order to win, should you turn down the first card, or courteously request your opponent to do so? And how should you conduct your play?”


Dudeney, H. E. The Canterbury Puzzles, Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1919 (originally published 1907); available at Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive.
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/27635
https://archive.org/details/canterburypuzzle00dudeuoft


Addition-Games600x800

This post is an excerpt from my book Addition & Subtraction: Math Games for Elementary Students, available now in bookstores all over the Internet.


Tabletop Academy PressGet monthly math tips and activity ideas, and be the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions. Sign up for my Tabletop Academy Press Updates email list.


Math Game: Chopsticks

Feature photo above by Harry (Phineas H) via Flicker (CC BY 2.0).

Math Concepts: counting up to five, thinking ahead.
Players: two or more.
Equipment: none.

How to Play

Each player starts with both hands as fists, palm down, pointer fingers extended to show one point for each hand. On your turn, use one of your fingers to tap one hand:

  • If you tap an opponent’s hand, that person must extend as many extra fingers on that hand (in addition to the points already there) as you have showing on the hand that tapped. Your own fingers don’t change.
  • If you force your opponent to extend all the fingers and thumb on one hand, that makes a “dead hand” that must be put behind the player’s back, out of the game.
  • If you tap your own hand, you can “split” fingers from one hand to the other. For instance, if you have three points on one hand and only one on the other, you may tap hands to rearrange them, putting out two fingers on each hand. Splits do not have to end up even, but each hand must end up with at least one point (and less than five, of course).
  • You may even revive a dead hand if you have enough fingers on your other hand to split. A dead hand has lost all its points, so it starts at zero. When you tap it, you can share out the points from your other hand as you wish.

The last player with a live hand wins the game.

When a two-points hand taps a one-point hand, that player must put out two more fingers.
When a two-points hand taps a one-point hand, that player must put out two more fingers.

Variations

House Rule: Do you want a shorter game? Omit the splits. Or you could allow ordinary splits but not splitting fingers to dead hands.

Nubs: All splits must share the fingers evenly between the hands. If you have an odd number of points, this will leave you with “half fingers,” shown by curling those fingers down.

Zombies: (For advanced players.) If a hand is tapped with more fingers than are needed to put it out of the game, it comes back from the dead with the leftover points. For instance, if you have four fingers out, and your opponent taps you with a two-finger hand, that would fill up your hand with one point left over. Close your fist, and then hold out just the zombie point. In this variation, the only way to kill a hand is to give it exactly five points.

History

Finger-counting games are common in eastern Asia—and they must be contagious, since my daughters caught them from their Korean friends at college. Middle school teacher Nico Rowinsky shared Chopsticks (which is simpler than the version my daughters brought home) in a comment on the “Tiny Math Games” post at Dan Meyer’s blog.


Counting-Games

This post is an excerpt from my book Counting & Number Bonds: Math Games for Early Learners, available now in bookstores all over the Internet.


Tabletop Academy PressGet monthly math tips and activity ideas, and be the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions. Sign up for my Tabletop Academy Press Updates email list.


April 2015 Math Calendar

Feature photo above by Kelly Sikkema via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

AprilMathCalendar

Six years ago, my homeschool co-op classes had fun creating this April calendar to hand out at our end-of-semester party. Looking at my regular calendar today, I noticed that April this year starts on Wednesday, just like it did back then. I wonder when’s the next time that will happen?

A math calendar is not as easy to read as a traditional calendar — it is more like a puzzle. The expression in each square simplifies to that day’s date, so your family can treat each day like a mini-review quiz: “Do you remember how to calculate this?”

The calendar my students made is appropriate for middle school and beyond, but you can make a math calendar with puzzles for any age or skill level. Better yet, encourage the kids to make puzzles of their own.

How to Use the Math Calendar

At home:
Post the calendar on your refrigerator. Use each math puzzle as a daily review “mini-quiz” for your children (or yourself).

In the classroom:
Post today’s calculation on the board as a warm-up puzzle. Encourage your students to make up “Today is…” puzzles of their own.

As a puzzle:
Cut the calendar squares apart, then challenge your students to arrange them in ascending (or descending) order.

Help Us Make the Next Math Calendar

If you like, you may use the following worksheet:

Submission details here: Kids’ Project — More Math Calendars?


Tabletop Academy PressGet monthly math tips and activity ideas, and be the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions. Sign up for my Tabletop Academy Press Updates email list.