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Dear Mitch, 

So many math people (including you) Talk a lot about how great it is to think like a "problem-solver", and everybody says that it helps in real life, but I would like to hear of one true time when problem-solving actually was better than just relying on some way to fix something or do something that had already been around (like the usual way to do it).  Can you really tell me of even one case, like in the last year when this happened in your life for real?


M. L. Litton

San Diego, CA


Dear M. L. Litton, 

Yes, actually, I can!

Recently, I was taking a friend for a pleasant evening's drive under the lovely tropical sky of Florida's Gulf Coast.  We were in my car, which is a convertible, and we were on our way for dinner at a favorite restaurant.  Then BAM!!!— 

-- one of those infamous sub-tropic rain showers zapped out of the sky --

Trying to be a sport, my friend did her best to act as though it were no big deal, but the large raindrops were making clear impressions on her new skirt.  I began to turn to the side of the road to pull the car's top over us so we could continue the drive with minimum stress.

Then, instead, I applied my limited but useful problem-solving ability to the situation and realized that there is a mathematical relationship connecting the rate of the rainfall, its angle, the angle of the windshield, and the rate of the vehicle's movement so that once approached the driver and his/her passengers could continue their trip through showers yet not get wet.  AND, BEST OF ALL, the perfect rate is rarely a fast one; it merely has to be the correct one.  It took me a moment, I adjusted the car's rate of movement (which was below the speed limit) and continued.  We arrived at the restaurant and -- until we parked -- did not get meet with another drop of water until the busboy arrived with our glasses!

True, I promise.  And – if that's not sufficient, I have witnesses... not only my passenger, but those who were applauding in the parking lot as we made our mathematically appropriate entrance! 

Hope this helps,