Monday, November 20, 2006

Oh, Euclid. Euclid.

Over the weekend, my mother and I decided that at last we would tackle the gargantuan, Herculean, Sisyphean task of cleaning the store room. Other people have attics, but our house is a ranch, and even if it were taller it would not be old enough to have an attic. My parents had it built roughly 25 years ago. I remember once, after reading one of those Bernie-in-the-Besseldorf-Hotel books (bodies were always turning up there – never stay at the Besseldorf), being grateful that no one lived there before us, no one could have died there without our knowing it, no one could have been buried in the dirt floor of the basement in 1892. Not only because the basement floor is cement, but because the basement floor was poured in 1980 and is covered in an enormous orange rug that would be really annoying to roll back in order to bury a body. So: no ghosts likely to roam the . . . one . . . hallway. However, the freezer? In the store room? Easily big enough to hide a body in. And practical. Thus creative children such as myself can find terror where no reason for it could possibly exist. Good for me! A-plus-plus.

Aside from the body-sized freezer, the store room contains the hot water heater and the enormous stand my father built to grow seedlings inside, which is so old I have no memory of it in use. It now functions as an inconveniently bulky shelf, along with three or four other sets of inconvenient shelves that contain the following: eleven billion dusty cardboard boxes. Winter clothes. Summer clothes. Shoeboxes of negatives. Old letters. Biology textbooks. Sundry photographic equipment. Twenty-five cookie tins. A fake Christmas tree (boxed). A picture of Pushkin, my mother’s guinea pig. A paper maché stegasaurus. Eight baskets. Three shelves of Christmas decorations. A plate from Russia. Stickers from Denmark. Two sewing machines, clearly a dueling set. Two slide projectors and two screens, perhaps for the same purpose. Enough scrap fabric to clothe the Von Trapp children twice. One large Pound Puppy. A longhouse (small-scale). Twinkle lights galore. And thirteen bags and two days’ worth of garbage.

There was also a box of games that were too boring to be played but in such perfect condition that they couldn’t be thrown away. It was an impasse, and that was how my parents and I found ourselves sitting in the basement with a little delight called

It’s hard to tell, but that says O! Euclid. It is an amusing and scholarly card game for ages 9-99. On the side it says

O! Euclid, the geometry fun game, provides the following instructions

with which you can also build an ultra cold atom collider if you are of a mind to.

My mother, who is a tutor in math among other things, knew every question, which was good because I mainly abstained except to occasionally say, “Oh yeah? Can be divided by its diagonals to form six equilateral triangles, eh? Prove it!” I have, in the past, been accused of Not Liking Math, which is not true, and in fact, I liked geometry best. I even liked geometry proofs. And adding picas in base-twelve always brightens a dull workday. But I am the Harold Skimpole of math. What could I possibly understand about the world of numbers, being but an English major?

Just enough, it turns out, to have some profound doubts about the geometry fun game.

Is it possible that the educated professionals who made up a game that requires the players to have the formula for calculating the area of a trapezoid readily at hand are the same people who came up with the following questions?

There is no such thing as a loperbola. That is ridiculous. Why would one introduce the idea of a “high-perbola” having a “low-perbola” counterpart? While you’re at it, why don’t you give the kids a list of misspelled vocabulary words, too, just to, you know, warn them of possible pitfalls. Or, er, push them in ahahahahahaha!

Again. No such thing as a left triangle. This seems deliberately confusing, and since the copyright is 1988, I can only conclude that these so-called teachers are actually Russian infiltrators who, in their desperation, have resorted to planting false information in children’s games so as to poison the mathemetical consciousnesses of future American cosmonauts with such foolish concepts as a “left triangle” and a “loperbola.”

[Blogger hates me. The answer to the last question is: "Betsy Ross used this method to form five-pointed stars for our flag." I guess those 9- to 99-year-olds are ALL American.]

Now that the innocent students are failing geometry, thanks to Russia, we’re going to come at them from another angle (no pun intended) and make them feel stupid about geography and history as well -- but unjustifiably, because the Pentagon is not called the Regular Pentagon. I expect it is more often described as “irregular” if anything. And the fact that you can make a pentagon by tying a knot in a strip of paper (which I’d like to see, Betsy) is one of the most useless facts a person could possibly know. How many would-be astronauts went mad before the age of twelve trying to tie a pentagon in a strip of paper? This must have put off the development of a space station for at least ten years.

Communists 1 NASA 0

Clipped? Is that a technical term?

And no, I’m not sure you can just paint an octagon red and put it up as a stop sign. The Department of Transportation is very strict about regulating road signs. Children should not be encouraged to put up their own.

Here I begin to suspect not a nefarious misinformation campaign, but simple sloppiness.

A line that goes around? Goes around what? The mulberry bush? And since when do circles have holes in the middle? They have a point in the middle. A point is not a hole. A point is defined by coordinates. A hole is a denomination used to measure donut parts.

This is how Wikipedia, not even the paragon (not a shape) of collected human knowledge, defines a circle: “A two-dimensional geometric figure consisting of the set of all those points in a plane that are equally distant from another point.”

Let’s revisit the definition on this flashcard once more, just for comparison: “A Circle is a line that goes around and has a hole in the middle.”

The conspiracy theory falls apart here. Let’s face it, Soviet spies are just smarter than this.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BOLA. Though if there were, it would explain why the two symmetrical bolas are called a “pair o’ bolas.”

Hey, my father thought it was funny.

No longer able to support a proper conspiracy theory, I’m faced with only one other explanation. The geometry fun game is not supposed to be called, “O! Euclid.” It’s supposed to be “Oh, Euclid.”

Needless to say, we kept it.


Katie P. said...

I'm glad you kept it. It's almost reason enough for me to fly out to see you. Wait. No. That would be our tv show that's why I'd fly out. but if I come we should play so we can mock the makers.
Question: Would the communists have written a game that talked about the Pentagon and Betsy Ross?

In other news, you haven't returned my email and I am hurt :'(

Katie P. said...

She just returned my email before she read this comment...

Simon said...

Answer: BECAUSE THEY WERE TRYING TO FIT IT. This explains why they would think the Pentagon was called the Regular Pentagon and why they would think Betsy Ross's star-making methods were common knowledge.

In other news, I did too!

SIMON said...


Megan said...

They were trying to fit it? You must really loathe communists if they make you type nonsense. Nonetheless, I still have to go console Trotsky, who is positively desolate at the prospect of hedgehogs hating him. Way to go, Simon, making Trotsky cry like that! He may be leader of the Red Army and People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs and War but he still has FEELINGS!

Perhaps I should sit quietly for a moment.

Ivan said...

this post makes me want to ask: can I copy your homework... forever?

the TSA and Homeland Security Comission would like me to remind you that the threat level is orange. Apparently the hedgehogs didn't make the no fly list. Shall we drink beer tonight?

Simon said...

Trotsky is MUCH too sensitive.

Yes, I think this is a good night for hedgehogs to locate and consume some Magic Hat.

.Maeve said...

i weep for math.

by the way, simon, have you finished brideshead revisited yet? because i wanted to send you my special love.

Katie P. said...

Simon and Ivan, I hope you had an excellent Thanksgiving with much pie and other good things, that while geometrical, are not bolas, loperbolas, or left triangles.

Matthew said...

This reminded me heavily of Regents exams. Except that Simon was never sitting next to me adding commentary all the while, which would've made the experience FAR better.

Also, I suspect that the un-played games in MY closet are not nearly as falsely-educational as this one. Mine are all things like "Can you roll 5s in row FOREVER?!" or "How many pancakes can you make before the dinosaur shows up?!" neither of which even pretend to know a thing about right angles.

Megan said...

Could I make a request for more photos of cute, furry animals?