Not Quite Scraping the Sky

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

Not Quite Scraping the Sky

October 29, 2018

When you’re building any kind of house or building, you have to watch the numbers closely. If you don’t, you could get a big bad surprise, like the people in Wichita Falls, Texas. Back in 1919, a guy named J.D. McMahon told people he was building a “skyscraper” — a really tall building — with a height of 480. Lots of excited people paid money to own a piece of it. But he worded the papers very carefully: he never said 480 feet. So he built a skyscraper only 480 inches tall, which comes to only 40 feet! That cost him a lot less money to build, and he kept all the leftover money. The buyers were super angry, because they thought they were buying a 48-story building, not a dinky 4-story one! The Newby-McMahon Building still stands today as the world’s shortest, silliest skyscraper.

Wee ones: Most skyscrapers look like a rectangle from the side. How many sides does a rectangle have?

Little kids: Which is taller, a 40-foot tall building or a 400-foot tall building?  Bonus: If they started building this little building in February 1919 and took 3 months, in what month did they finish?

Big kids: If the building should have cost $2,000, but people gave McMahon 12 times as much money to build it, how much money did they give him?  Bonus: If your house is 24 feet tall and shrank to 1/12 that height, how tall would it be — and how would it look next to you?













Wee ones: 4 sides.

Little kids: The 400-foot building is taller.  Bonus: May of 1919.

Big kids: $24,000.  Bonus: 2 feet, which is probably shorter than you!

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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