Today our road trip takes us to the only state with a number in its name: Tennessee! This state also has a pretty cool shape. Thanks to its wiggly eastern and western borders, it looks almost like a parallelogram. But perhaps the best math in Tennessee comes from cotton candy. A candy maker and a dentist from Nashville invented the world’s first cotton candy machine. This machine heats sugar until it melts. Then it spins the melted sugar through small holes super-fast to make a cloud of tiny threads. Just 1 or 2 teaspoons of sugar make enough cotton candy to fill a big cone. When the inventors brought their machine to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, people went crazy for it. The crowds bought 68,655 boxes at a quarter each! That sounds like a pretty sweet deal.
Wee ones: Tennessee begins with the number 10! Can you count up from 1 to 10?
Little kids: If you use 2 teaspoons of sugar to make pink cotton candy, 3 teaspoons to make green cotton candy, and 5 teaspoons to make blue cotton candy, how many teaspoons of sugar do you use? Bonus: Cotton candy is also called “fairy floss.” If you make 3 cones of fairy floss, then eat 1, then spin 4 more, then eat 2, how many cones do you have on hand now?
Big kids: A cotton candy machine spins 3,500 times in 1 minute! How many full minutes would it take to spin more than 10,000 times? Bonus: If chocolate starts melting at 86 degrees F but sugar doesn’t start melting until 300 degrees F, how much hotter does a pan need to be to melt sugar than chocolate?
The sky’s the limit: If those 68,655 boxes of cotton candy sold for 25 cents per box, did the inventors make more than $20,000?
Wee ones: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
Little kids: 10 teaspoons. Bonus: 4 cones left. 3 – 1 gives you 2… then you add 4 to get 6… and finally take away 2 to get 4.
Big kids: Just 3 minutes – the first 2 minutes of spinning bring you to only 7,000 rotations. But 7,000 + 3,500 = 10,500. Bonus: 214 degrees F warmer.
The sky’s the limit: Not quite. Since 4 quarters make 1 dollar, every 4 boxes earned $1. So the inventors would have had to sell 80,000 boxes of cotton candy to reach $20,000. (They instead made $17,163.75.)
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.