12 January 2010

Pool, Billiards and Mathmagicland

Justin and I have been playing some pool lately at places like the Rush Inn and the Catalyst (free if you go the right nights). Neither of us are spectacular but it's fun to play a game that I don't totally suck at (i.e. darts, or bowling). There are a lot of angles involved, and it got me thinking about Donald in Mathmagicland, a 1959 Disney movie that I hadn't watched since middle school. In it, Donald goes on all sorts of mathematical adventures, including a visit to a billiard table. The man playing billiards is apparently very good, although I don't know how to play billiards so I wouldn't know. According to Donald's narrator-friend, the formula for hitting the balls is very simple, and involves subtraction of the diamond where the cue is from the diamond where the cue ball is. That number tells you what diamond to aim at on the other side of the table in order to hit the two other balls (which I guess is the point...)

Here's the video. Compared to, let's say 3 is a Magic Number by Schoolhouse Rock (really not the way to learn what 3 means), it presents mathematics in a very endearing way, not as numbers and equations but as thought experiments, embedded in every day life. Well done Disney. Modern math curricula that focus on memorization could take some cues from Donald's adventures.

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