My darling does crossword puzzles and sometimes asks my help:

Darling: Bill,

*Slaughter in Cooperstown*- whats the answer?

Bill: Enos. There was a serial murderer in a town named Cooper, and he always wrote on his victims

*Eternity's Not On Sale*. So he got the nickname ENOS. Nobody ever figured out what that meant and he was never caught.

Darling: Another clue:

*Chaplin's wife*

Bill: Oona. That's latin for minister's spouse. And in those days ministers were always men.

Darling. Okay. Another clue:

*Log man*. Begins with an N.

Bill: Napier, a famous lumberjack.

Many of my readers know that, while the above answers are correct,

the reasoning behind them is fictional. In fact, the entire story is fictional.

But it IS true that when Darling sees those clues in crossword puzzles

she knows what the answer is without having any idea that Enos Slaughter is in

the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, that Oona was the name of Charlie

Chaplin'sfourth and last wife, or that John Napier is regarded as having

invented logarithms (the history of such things is always murky).

She has MEMORIZED the answers (from years of doing crossword puzzles)

without really UNDERSTANDING the answers.

When I show my students the proof that sqrt(2) is irrational and ask

them to prove sqrt(3) is irrational, I often can't tell if they truly

understand the proof or are copying a template proof of sqrt(2).

Sometimes (and usually on harder problems) some small slip will

tell me that they are just copying since they didn't quite know

what to change. Or they may miscopy.

However, there is a deeper question here. If students memorizes the

template for the proof that sqrt(n) is irrational, and uses it correctly,

then do they understand or have they just memorized? The distinction can be

hard to discern and may not even exist. One real test is if they understand

why the same template fails on sqrt(4). For harder problems there may be

other ways to tell--- having to do with when the proof fails.

Incidentally, the reason the crossword clues above come up so often is

that the answers have many vowels in them. So, one way to immortality is

to be mildly famous and have a name with a large percentage of vowels.

Let see- gAsArch: 28% vowels not so good. fOrtnOw: The same (no wonder we coblog!),

also not so good. AArOnsOn: 50% WOW!! May his name adorn crossword puzzles for

many years to come!

Papadimitriou

ReplyDeleteArora

ReplyDeleteArora- 60 percent

ReplyDeleteBabai- 60 percent

Yao- 67 percent!!!! Really WOW!!!!

In many countries, Yao would be considered 100% vowely.

DeleteAurora - 67% (as in Aurora Bautista)

ReplyDeleteWhat famous (other) quantum complexity researcher has a surname that literally means "Aaronson"? Hint: not only has the same vowel ratio, but has the same vowels in the same order!

ReplyDeleteThis reminds me of The Chinese Room.

ReplyDelete