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Unfiltered Story #240668

, | Unfiltered | July 31, 2021

In the 6th grade, my Math teacher often gave us assignments during class that if we did not finish, we’d have to take home. Conversely, those who finished quickly had the option of doing extra assignments for extra credit near the end of the class. Frequently, these were Math Olympiad problems.

The normal assignments were never difficult and even the slowest witted should finish on time, but being 6th grade and all, class control was a hopeless affair, and most students just chose to do their homework at home, refusing to work in class, opting instead to talk to friends. However, as the students who didn’t do work in school often also appeared to not do work at home, as we get later in the year, more and more students did their work in hopes of extra credit afterwards.

Near the end of the Year, I solving like always, enjoying myself. The last question in particular was incredibly fun as it was one of the most complex answers I’d had to write for a long time, which would classify it as ‘difficult’ but since I knew how to solve it, I just deemed it time consuming and a puzzle. I was frequently the fastest one to turn in assignments, so I took notice when other students turned in theirs first. The Math Olympiads were strictly speaking also a competition so my morale took a hit, but I coped thinking to myself maybe they skipped a few questions, which was common if one couldn’t solve it since sometimes we didn’t learn it.

When I turned the assignment, my teacher looked at my answers quickly ready to grade, and developed a befuddled face. My teacher quickly scanned his own answer sheet, followed by all the other student sheets, and looked at me curiously.

Teacher: “… could you explain to me how you solved this?”

I admit, sometimes I did not show all my work, and when I did, it was often completely non-sequential as I just wrote in whatever blank spots I had in whatever order. He pointed to that last question, showing a picture of a clock with no numbers with hands at the 10 and 2 position with a second hand straight down at the 30, and asking for the angle between the hands at the time of 10:12. It is worth nothing that I am one of the better students who rarely got anything wrong, though when I did, it’s because of a simple calculation error, not the theory.

Me pointing to my calculations: “Well, since the minute hand is exactly halfway between 12 and 13, I took 12.5 and divided by 60 for the percentage of the way the hour hand traveled between 10 and 11, I then applied 360 degrees to these percentages adding in the fixed 10 hours 360 degree calculation here, then solved the angle between.”

My teacher proceeded to look at the paper with wide eyes, and it was around this point that I realized something was wrong, or at least different about this particular instance. I peeked over at the other sheets curious, and somehow noted all the other answers were far far simpler, or used the Pi system. Like 8 pi over 4, (which I quickly dismissed as erroneous as it seemed to leave out key precise information), but even so I noticed that all the other sheets had the same answer, and while my answer was close, it didn’t match.

Teacher: “… No one else has solved it this way…”

He then brings out the answer sheet, which had the answer along with the Teacher’s own calculations. Surprised and confused, I asked, “Then how was it meant to be done?” Honestly not understanding another way to solve it, yet knowing I was somehow wrong faced with this evidence.

The Teacher spent what seemed like a full minute looking at his sheet, by this point, every student was watching us having overheard everything.

“… I honestly couldn’t explain it to you… Now that I’ve seen what you did, I can’t even understand how I got the numbers I did, or how the answer sheet gave the answer it did.”

He then proceeded to ask 3 students who matched the answer sheet and himself to come up.

“How did you 3 solve this question?” (once again, work being incomplete was not new. Besides the angle calculations, there was little else aside from a number here or there, probably solving for the numbers needed for inputting into their angle formula.

Student A: “I…. just solved it?”
Student B: “Yeah…”
Student C: “It seemed pretty simple enough to me…”

My Teacher thanked the students, then proceeded to the Blackboard to write this question down, using my formula, and made this a class event. He explained how I solved it, and then asked all the students if they might know how the answer sheet, himself, and these 3 students managed to get “this answer” (writes the ‘correct answer’ on the board).

It then became a mystery, or an act of math reverse engineering, but not a single person could figure it out. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. Theories of all sorts were tossed around, arguments were had, and especially the 3 others were scratching their heads, as if desperate to understand what went wrong, and desperate to remember how they solved it.

For whatever reason, as soon as my answer was displayed on the board, it seemed impossible to solve for the correct answer afterwards. For the entirety of the remainder of the class, and assigned as extra credit homework on top of that, not a single person was able to explain the requirements needed to solve the ‘official answer’. I remember my 6th grade self thinking that it was as if I brainwashed all of them into enlightenment. I ended getting a strange respect afterwards (like ‘what is this creature?’) and for years after became an unofficial math tutor and teacher’s aide.

In hindsight, I suspect it was the combination 30 seconds minute calculation along with the analog hour and minute hand not ‘ticking’ like the second hand does in my assumptions.

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