Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cryptarithmetic Puzzles for Grades 1 to 4

Inspired by a series of puzzles from Manan Shah, I decided to have the kids play with cryptarithmetic puzzles today. In addition to borrowing some of Manan's puzzles, I also used some from this puzzle page: Brain Fun. I've included some more comments below about the Brain Fun puzzles.

My main concern was whether the puzzles were at the right level. In particular, I was afraid that the puzzles would be too hard. In fact, I tried solving a bunch of them yesterday and actually found myself struggling. I'll ascribe some of that to being tired and sick. However, my intuition was to make some simpler puzzles of my own. In particular, I added:
  • puzzles that have many solutions: I figured that many solutions would make it easy to find at least one.
  • a puzzle that "obviously" has no solution. Now, obviously, the word "obviously" is a sneaky one in math, but I was pretty sure the kids could see the problem with this structure.

Grades 1 and 2

For the younger kids, I started with a shape substitution puzzle. This is one our family explored almost 2 years ago: Shape Substitution. I don't recall the original source.

Two reasons why I started with this. First, it has a lot of solutions, but there is an important insight that unlocks those solutions. Second, by using shapes, we can write possible number solutions inside them as we solve or guess-and-check the puzzle. This made it easier for the kids to see the connection that all squares have the same value, etc.

The second puzzle: BIG + PIG = YUM
Really just a warm-up practicing the rules and doing a little bit of checking that we haven't duplicated any numbers.

The third puzzle: CAT + HAT = BAD
Again, lots of solutions, but noticing leads to a good insight.

Fourth puzzle:  SAD + MAD + DAD = SORRY
This is a trick puzzle. The kids know that I like to tease them, so they are aware they need to look out for things like this. We discussed this in class and I suggested they give this puzzle to their parents.

Fifth puzzle: CURRY + RICE = LUNCH
When I translated this to Thai, all the kids laughed. I was sneaking a little bit of English practice into the lesson and then they realized that it was worth trying to read all the puzzles, not just solve them.

Sources: I think I made up all of these puzzles (original authors, please correct me if I'm wrong).

Grades 3 and 4

The older kids already had experience with these puzzles. We did refresh their memory a bit with BIG + PIG = YUM

I asked them to give me the rules and explain why those rules made sense. As with most games, I want to communicate that we're doing things for a reason, but those reasons can be challenged. If they think it makes sense to do it a particular way, we're open to their ideas.

Second puzzle:  SAD + MAD + DAD = SORRY
Same discussion as for the younger kids. When prompted, this was pretty easy for them to spot, but they weren't naturally attuned to think about whether a puzzle had solutions or how many. This led me to take a vote on all the puzzles at the end to see who thought the puzzles would have 0, 1 or many solutions.

Third puzzle: ALAS + LASS + NO + MORE = CASH
A puzzle from Brain Fun. I think this is one of the easier ones on that page. Again, a bit of English practice.

Fourth puzzle: LOL + LOL + LOL + .... + LOL = ROFL (71 LOLs)
This was from Manan. I think it is one of the easier ones in his collection, but it looks daunting. Turns out none of the kids in the class were familiar with (English) texting short-hand, so my attempt to be cool fell flat.

Fifth puzzle: CURRY + RICE = LUNCH
Again, everyone was delighted when I translated this one. We're in Thailand, after all, so at least one puzzle had to be about food.

The key exercise

The final assignment everyone (all four grades) was given was to make up a puzzle for me to solve. I was thinking it would be nice to have one in Thai, but we decided to keep it in English as further language practice.

Manan wrote a nice post about having kids design their own puzzles. If it goes well, this is actually the activity that ties a lot of the learning messages together: they think about structure, they think about what allows multiple or single solutions, they apply their own aesthetic judgment, they use their knowledge of the operations, they are empowered with an open-ended task that cannot be "wrong."

We'll see how it goes. At the very least, I expect a lot of work for myself when their puzzles come in!

An extra sweetener
Two kids asked if we could use other operations than addition. That prompted me to put this on the table (also from Brain Fun):


Brain Fun Problems

The first time I'd seen the Brain Fun problems, I added them to a list and called them "basic" (see this page.) When I actually went to solve them, though, they didn't seem so easy.

Big confession time: I actually looked at some of the solutions.  However, I was disturbed to see that the solutions involved extra information that wasn't included as part of the problem statement! For example, in THREE + THREE + FIVE = ELEVEN, the solution assumes that ELEVEN is divisible by 11. This seems to be the case for several of the puzzles involving written out arithmetic:

TWO + TWENTY = TWELVE + TEN (assume 20 divides TWENTY and 12 divides TWELVE, I wasn't clear about whether any divisibility was assumed for TWO and TEN)

I'm not sure if similar assumptions are allowed/required for any of the others.

Maybe I shouldn't complain, since this assumption creates an additional constraint without which there could be further solutions. Perhaps part of the reason it doesn't sit well is aesthetic. In the 3 + 3 + 5 = 11 puzzle, 3 doesn't divide THREE and 5 doesn't divide FIVE.

Lastly, there is a typo in the final puzzle of the Brain Fun page. That puzzle should be

1 comment:

  1. More from Manan:
    TWO + TWELVE = SEVEN + SEVEN [two sols]
    ONE + FIVE = TWO + FOUR [many sols]
    ZERO + FIVE = TWO + THREE [uses a Z! many sols]