These days the postal service can send your mail just about anywhere — including Antarctica. In fact, there’s a post office there on a small island off the coast. The workers there not only help mail 70,000 letters every year, but also run a museum and take care of 2,000 penguins. If you want to work there, they tell you you’ll have to be able to carry big boxes over slippery rocks, “be happy not to shower for up to a month,” and “be willing to live near 2,000 smelly penguins for 5 months.” Amazingly, over 1,500 people want this job! If you think you’re the right person for it, feel free to send them your name.
Wee ones: If you’ve counted 4 smelly penguins, then 5, then 6…what number comes next?
Little kids: If you live with the penguins for 5 full months and the first month is February, what’s your last month? Bonus: If you want to be there all of December for their longest day of the year (sunny all day and night!), what’s the earliest month that could be your first of 5?
Big kids: If you’re watching 2,000 penguins, and every day you throw 5 fish to each, how many fish do you feed them every day? (Hint if needed: What if you were feeding just 2 penguins?) Bonus: If your coworker loves feeding them too and takes over 1,300 of the penguins, how many penguins are left for you?
The sky’s the limit: If the post office hires only 3 of the 1,500 people who want the job, what (reduced) fraction of job seekers do they take?
Wee ones: 7 penguins.
Little kids: June. Bonus: August.
Big kids: 10,000 fish. Bonus: 700 penguins.
The sky’s the limit: 1/500th.
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.