Do you know what a number cake is? Guess what — you’ve probably eaten one! That’s what cupcakes were called when they were first made in the 1800s. The first recipes called for 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, 4 eggs…okay, and 1 cup of milk and 1 spoonful of baking soda. We now mix in other flavors and smear frosting on top. We love this set of cupcakes here because it puts each type of frosting (chocolate, coffee, and vanilla) on top of each cake flavor (chocolate and yellow). Of course, people like some frosting flavors more than others…so you have to do the math to see if you’ll get your favorite.
Wee ones: How many cupcakes can you count in each row going across?
Little kids: How many cupcakes can you count in the whole box? Bonus: If 4 of them have coffee frosting, how many don’t?
Big kids: If you instead had 3 kinds of cupcake cake — chocolate, yellow, and red velvet — with 5 kinds of frosting — chocolate, vanilla, coffee, cream cheese, and pink — how many combinations of 1 cake flavor and 1 frosting flavor could you come up with? Bonus: If you have 5 cake flavors and you want to make at least 32 different cake/icing pairs, how many icing flavors do you need to make?
The sky’s the limit: If the number of cake flavors and icing flavors add up to 10, and together they can make 24 cake/icing pairs, how many cake and icing flavors could there be?
Wee ones: 4 cupcakes.
Little kids: 12 cupcakes. Bonus: 8 cupcakes.
Big kids: 15 combinations: 5 icings for each cake flavor. Bonus: You’ll need 7 flavors, since 6 flavors would give you only 30 pairs.
The sky’s the limit: There are either 4 cake flavors topped with 6 types of icing, or 6 cake flavors and 4 types of icing. If there are 24 pairs possible, you need 2 numbers that multiply to 24 that also add up to 10. The factor pairs that multiply to 24 are 1 and 24, 2 and 12, 3 and 8, and 4 and 6. 4 and 6 is the only one that adds up to 10, so they are the number of cake and icing flavors, or the other way around.
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.