Educational challenge-based interactive fiction. Of a sort.

Back in 1993 I was tutoring my sister in algebra. Her quizzes and tests were always made of word problems with a running storyline involving many recurring places and characters. I tied the fate of the main characters to how well she did on the previous quiz, so a good performance brought them good fortune.

Unfortunately, one test she completely bombed, and, well, this is a transcription of the quiz she got next. (On behalf of my younger self, I apologize to the people of Argentina, the spirit of Goethe, and hypnotists. [Hi, Conrad.])

ETA: Didn’t anticipate this getting Metafiltered, so I put it someplace with a low bandwidth allowance, and that’s now used up. You can also see it cached and in non-PDF form here.blah

42 thoughts on “Educational challenge-based interactive fiction. Of a sort.”

    1. Yeah, if she’d grown up horribly warped, I might feel guilty about it. But the fact that she kept the whole set of quizzes and recently got them out again to show me suggests she’s not carrying too big a grudge.

    1. I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure that it’s something that was introduced in detail in the earlier quizzes. I’ll have to go back and look at the earlier material.

  1. Amazing. This is a book series idea right here… “A Series of Unfortunate Algebraic Events?”

    “Oh, insects. I dream of insects, millions and millions, with their horrible jaws, chewing away at the body of my brother.”

    1. I’m thinking the same thing for when my grandson gets older. I may be banned from the house, but it will be soooo worth it.

  2. I just want you to know that my sister now blames me for not using a like method to teach her algebra. (I instead terrified her by trying to corner her and teach her shiny proofs.)

  3. Compelling narrative! And may I also congratulate you that the problems are solvable using only algebra without also requiring an external knowledge of Stuff.

    The high school academic tournament circuit in which I competed sometimes featured questions that required some knowledge of esoterica apart from the test subject. I particularly remember the controversy generated by “Titus the Turtle can reach top speeds of 1000 furlongs per fortnight. How fast is this in miles per hour?” A fair question for a trivia test, but otherwise a violation of the Algebra Geek’s Bill of Rights.

    Sometimes tournament questions tried to be genuinely cross-discipline to test the “well-roundedness” of the competitors. But so many expositional clauses rendered them completely ridiculous, e.g. “If Jean consumed a total of 20 aspirin, and each tablet contained 81 mg aspirin, and the pKa of salicyclic acid is 3, and Jean’s urinary bladder can achieve a maximum volume of 400 ml, if Jean were to pee into a flowerbed of hydrangeas….”

    I liked your questions a lot better – elegant and creative but still proper algebra!

  4. This is too cool! Though I couldn’t help myself – i had to google how to solve linear systems, I could only get halfway there.

    Sadly it was an ‘oh, duh’ moment.

    (130 white bouquets, 20 blue bouquets)
    (pearson = $2 per share, cormorant = $16 per share)
    (ticket is $2.5k; profit is $17.5k if paid for out of pocket, vs. $10k sponsored)
    (15 visions; but i have no idea how to show it algebraically)
    (psychologist = $278.54/h, hypnotist = $139.27/h)
    (Finding the truth about your family, priceless.)

    1. Your score is 60%. You missed questions 3 and 5.

      3. Ticket is $2000.00, spending allowance is $8000.00. Jean would make $8000.00 under the first option and $14000.00 under the second.

      5. The psychologist charges $100.00/hr, the hypnotist $200.00/hr.

  5. I’d do this, but the incentive to fail would be too strong! Writing compelling ‘bad ending’ problems is tricky, but I’m not even sure it’s POSSIBLE to make a series of ‘happy’ problems interesting.

  6. I’m excited by the tiny taste I got over at Number Warrior, but I can’t seem to see the pdf. (I’m on a MAc, different sites seem to respond to different keys. I tried command (apple) and I tried option.)

    Can you help me out?

    1. Sue, if you don’t have a plug-in that lets you view pdfs in your browser (but those plug-ins are very nice!), you can try ctrl-click and see if you get a drop-down menu with “Save Link As…” Then open it in a pdf viewer.

      That works in Firefox — not sure about everything else.

  7. Hi Sue, the link on Number Warrior is the same as the one above in the original post so you should have no problems just clicking the link (i’m on a Mac too and it works fine for me).

    What web browser are you using? The link works for me in both Safari 4 (opens in Safari) and Firefox 3 (Firefox prompts me to open the pdf with Preview or download it). Note i’m still using Mac OSX Tiger so i’m not up to speed on Leopard/Snow Leopard changes, but opening pdfs should be standard. Can you view other online pdfs successfully?

    Do you see anything when you click the link? Left-click and Option-click should open it in the same window (and you can then Ctrl-click and select “open with preview”), while Apple/Command-click will open it in another tab. You can also try Ctrl-clicking on the link itself and selecting “Download linked file”.

    Hope this helps, and trust me, it’s worth seeing the full pdf;-)

  8. All I had seen (until now) was the one paragraph Jason had put into his post at Number Warrior. (Yes, the links are the same…)

    Thanks for all your help. The control key worked fine. I’m a bit embarrassed. I had thought ‘copy link’ would just copy the address, and do nothing useful. (I thought I remembered that happening before, so I didn’t even try it.)

    Yes, it’s horridly lovely. I’ve printed it out to savor. ;^)

    1. Yes, ‘copy link’ does just copy the address, then you can paste it elsewhere. Not sure how that got you the pdf (unless you pasted it in the address bar and hit enter?) but glad you got the pdf in the end=)

    2. AFAICT, in most situations ctrl-click duplicates the function of right-clicking on a two-button mouse. And that’s about the only reason I ever use the ctrl key, except for creating shortcuts to type logic symbols.

      1. :( That link’s not working anymore, and I just came across this and got so excited.

        Please could you possibly post it up somewhere or could someone who managed to get the pdf email it to me at

        who is busy turning from an English teacher into a Maths teacher and thinks this idea is perfect.

  9. You really ought to use this as the basis for an IF. Perhaps even one that drills one’s algebra skills.

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