Games and Math

Pam Sorooshian
from the UnschoolingDiscussion list

You all do realize, of course, that mathematicians don't sit around doing the kind of math that you learned in school. They don't sit around and do long division or divide fractions or even solve quadratic equations 🙂. What they do is "play around." In fact, they play games. Some games are number games, some are spatial puzzles, some are strategy games and others are logic games.

They don't just play the same old games, though. Mostly, they take a "game" that has been played and won by somebody and they change the rules a little and then they watch it play out and look at how the play of the game changes and how the outcomes change.

Only the very most brilliant mathematician ever makes up a whole new game.

So - when you play games, you are doing exactly what mathematicians really do IF you fool with the games a bit, experiment, see how the play change if you change a rule here and there.

There are lots of ways to change game rules - sometimes a simple seemingly innocuous change can have major impacts on how the game plays out and what the outcome is. What if you let people have the option of skipping a turn, for example? Or - what if at the end of a turn they roll a die and call out a number - if they get a match with the number on the die, they get an extra turn.

Oh - and when you make up games and they flop - be sure to examine why they flop - that is a big huge part of what mathematicians do, too.


Commentary on Pam's Games Writing

I am tempted to mention about Las Vegas, so I will — before my first trip there, at the age of 30-something for a national conference, I studied guides to casino games and their relative odds, memorized the blackjack combinations and underlying frequencies, when to fold or double down, and why, et cetera.

Fascinating stuff, a surreal world of they-never-taught-me-this-in-school math wrapped in chandeliers, tuxedoes and the kind of magic and illusions that both dreams and nightmares are made of. (I also studied how the casinos operate psychologically, but that is for another thread!)

A big eye-opener for me was realizing that gambling games are math magic and that math magic and illusions are just like all magic and illusions — from tic-tac-toe to Houdini — once you "get" the underlying structure and why it works, it is less interesting to just see it or do it over and over the same way. The fun is in the discovery of new tricks and then sharing them with each other! 🙂


archived original

More by Pam Sorooshian

other math


Originally on the UnschoolingDiscussion mailing list (gone now, along with other yahoogroups)