Thursday, June 30, 2011

Answer: How many furlongs is...

I thought I'd talk for a minute about writing the AGoogleADay puzzles, using yesterday's puzzle as an example.   

Here's the link: 

And the puzzle was stated simply:
          Your name is Galloping Gertie. How many furlongs long are you?

There are a few constraints on the AGAD puzzles.  They have to be short (less than 140 characters in order to fit both in Tweets and onto the page design for the NYTimes print format).  They have to be interesting.  And they have to illustrate some point about search skills.  

Here's how I solved this puzzle: 

1.  "Galloping Gertie"?  What's that?  Don't be fooled by the rest of the puzzle statement, and in particular, don't be fooled by the use of the present tense.  (A few people complained about this in the Twitter stream.  As a puzzle this makes it interesting.  Here's why.  

If you do [ galloping gertie ] you'll quickly find out that this refers to the Tacoma Narrow bridge... the one that was destroyed by resonant oscillations caused by wind through the narrows.  That's easy enough. 

2.  What was the length of Galloping Gertie?  Be careful here.  They rebuilt the bridge at the same site, but that has a different length.  If you read carefully, you'll see that the OLD bridge (the true "Galloping Gertie" of 1940) was 5939 feet in length.  In this step, you just have to be careful to get the right length! 

3.  Convert 5939 feet to furlongs--easy, just use the Converter in Google.  [ 5939 feet in furlongs ] and you'll have the answer.  

This is a typical AGAD problem.  It takes a few steps, usually requires some special care at one point, but it's not intractable.  

As I mentioned yesterday, I was at ISTE in Philadelphia all this week.  When I showed AGAD to teachers, they were nearly all intrigued and thought this was a great idea.  I agree, although I find that people can be SO picky about the questions.  

Mostly when people complain about the AGAD questions it's because they think they have the answer, but on close inspection, they usually stop one question too soon and answer the question they THINK they read.  But no.  This is probably the biggest source of problems. 

But sometimes we make mistakes too.  For example, the question:  

A branch of the U.S. armed forces with the motto "Semper Paratus" runs a training facility in Northern California. Approximately how many people are trained there each year?

One astute reader pointed out that there is ANOTHER base in Northern California that has the motto, "Semper Paratus"  and trains recruits.  (To wit, Beale Air Force Base;  see:  Beale Fact Sheet, check out the motto near the bottom.)  

Who knew?  That's one of the great things about this kind of work.  You're always learning something new.  

And while at ISTE, I showed a few teachers some very short lesson plans I'd prepared based on AGAD questions.  They were pretty positive.... and so I'll show you some other these soon as well.  

I'll send these out for your feedback soon (later this week). 

Search on!

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