All About Kim

As you probably know: those who solve five puzzles in our Family Puzzle Marathon are receiving pink-and-black TheMathMom mug; those who solve ten get a honor of a puzzle being written about them. Now, meet Kim - a master puzzle solver with 50 puzzles on her list. To celebrate her achievements we decided to run an interview with her. This is tell-all: from the childhood math experiments to girl scout cookies and NFL players. Kim reveals all her influences and passions. Below is a portrait of Kim made by her children.

Q: You are obviously a master of logic and numbers. Whom do you attribute your love of math to?

A: I have always loved math. I remember creating my own books of word problems for the other kids to do back in first and second grade. My father went to MIT and so maybe this math thing is genetic for me. Some credit then to my Dad. One of my brothers tutors math (he is really, really good at it), and he was always fiddling around with ways to teach math. So back when I was in elementary school and he was in high school, I was his first guinea pig -- I mean, student. It was fun for me always knowing stuff way ahead of everybody.

Q: What do you like more: odd numbers or even numbers?

A: This is a toughie. They both have their pros and cons. Odd numbers are so interesting. There are lots of great ones, like Lucky 7, and all those really cool numbers that end in 5. And all those prime numbers -- you just don't see a lot of even prime numbers... On the other hand, since I have two kids, evens are good, too. They are always divisible by two which often comes in handy. And since there are four of us in our household, half of those evens are divisible by four, too! Really handy. So it's hard to pick.

Q: Do you find irrational numbers rational?

A: Rational, not so much, but exciting, yes! I mean, look at π -- you just don't get numbers that cool everyday. And √2. Yeah, I admit it they aren't exactly rational, but a lot of my best friends aren't rational either. We can't be so judgmental about our numbers. We have to look at what they do for us. Those irrational numbers can be pretty useful, and I'm willing to forgive some of their shortcomings.

Q: Do you know any math song?

A: You bet I do!! Did you ever used to watch Schoolhouse Rock? There were a bunch of great math songs. My husband (sssh, he probably wouldn't want me to write about this) knows the lyrics to pretty much all of them. I don't, but I do know a few. I always really liked the one about the number three (Three is a Magic Number). I have to admit, though, my favorite Schoolhouse Rock song wasn't about math, it was the one about the little bill who wanted to be a law.

Q: What was the coolest life situation you applied math to?

A: One morning my son was wondering how much tape there was in a 90 minute cassette tape. There are a bunch of different ways you might figure something like that out, like marking the tape, running it in a tape player for a few seconds, and measuring how much it moved. Or doing some measurements and calculations based on the diameter of the tape when it's all rolled up. But we decided to take a different approach. We broke the tape, held one end of it still and sent my son running the perimeter of our property until he had unrolled the whole thing. It's longer than you might expect.

Q: What is the most interesting professional math problem you ever had to solve?

A: One of my favorite projects I've worked on was several years back when I was working with colleagues building a simulation model for an NFL football team. They wanted to understand the dynamics of building dynasties (back then other teams weren't trying to be like the Patriots, they wanted to be like the 49ers). The question was: how did they build such a great team and keep it that way? What were they doing right that nobody else was? We built a model for them, and even had it with us when we joined them on Draft Day to help them assess some of the picks they were considering.

Q: What is your favorite angle? Why?

A: It would be easy to say 90 degree angles, but they are so square. I have to say, I find those bigger angles to be sort of obtuse, and I prefer those little, cuter, ones. 45 degree is nice because how evenly it splits a 90 degree angle. 60 degree angles are also nice, and I like how nicely they share they when they come together to form a triangle.

Q: Some personal questions, if you do not mind: what is ((your age x your weight) / your height)?

A: Ah! The Age-Mass Index. Yes, this is a very important measure, and I expect doctors will start using this as soon as they can make sense of it. I come in at just under 75 pound-years/inch.

Q: What is your favorite girl scout cookie?

A: This is very important topic in our household because I have a Girl Scout, and we have seen (too) many boxes come through our home. I can tell you that our Troop sold far more Thin Mints than anything else (with Caramel deLites a distant second -- these are called Samoas in other parts of the country). My favorite changes from time to time. I do love a good Thin Mint, but it's hard to argue with the Shortbread or the Thanks-A-Lots either.

Q: Do you do your own taxes?

A: Of course, I do. And I will make a confession here: I kind of enjoy it. I'm not sure I'd like it so much without the nice folks at Intuit who make TurboTax though.

Q: How do you share your love of math with your kids?

A: When he was really little, I remember my son asking about if there were any numbers bigger than infinity. That was really exciting for me. My kids will tell you that I share my love for math a little too much. For me, everything is a math problem! How much flour will I need if I triple this recipe? How should I divide this lasagna into 7 pieces? How long will it take to finish this book if I read 25 pages per day? That sort of thing. My favorite thing in mathematics is probabilities, and these fit into "real life" all the time. Just a few days ago we were talking about the importance of having a low false-positive rate if you want a good test for a rare disease, and they totally got it.

I love to proudly wave around my Math Mom coffee mug. And I share the Math Mom puzzles with them, too.

My favorite math games with the kids are Set, Mastermind, and 24.

Q: OK, so you love math. Do you think math loves you back?

A: Yes, no doubt about it!


  1. I do not know the song "the little bill who wanted to be a law" but I like the sound of it!
    Nice drawing!:-)
    Great interview!

  2. This interview was totally enjoyable! I think you've found a kindred spirit, Maria. And the drawing is hysterical. I especially love the tape experiment. And the NFL story continues to support the Math is Sexy view! Thank you, Tracy

  3. Kim - you are amazing. Smart, funny, confident and inspiring. Thank you for making this interview so enjoyable. I found the lyrics to all the Schoolhouse Rock songs. Too bad we had a cold war and we couldn't watch this growing up (in Russia).

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