Arithmetic, from University Department of Computer Science |

Years ago, Dad bought a lovely little book called Figuring, by the arithmetical genius Shakuntala Devi.

It's a book on the joys of numbers. According to the rather short Wikipedia article on her:

*"On June 18, 1980 she demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers 7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779 picked at random by the Computer Department of Imperial College, London. She answered the question in 28 seconds. However, this time is more likely the time for dictating the answer (a 26-digit number) than the time for the mental calculation (the time of 28 seconds was quoted on her own website). Her correct answer was 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730. This event is mentioned on page 26 of the 1995 Guinness Book of Records"*

I am of course light years away from such talents, but I was never really terrible at it. However, I notice more and more that I have given up on trying to work out multiplications in my head. It's not that I have become mentally lazy - well, I have, but it's not in the way that you might think.

The problem is German numbers. They are so backwards and incoherently wrong that I have simply given up on trying to work with them.

683 is spoken in German six hundred three and eighty. The hundreds number, 8 is easily buffered in my memory. However, I have to hold the final three in my head until I hear the tens "eight" before I can actually do anything with the number. In English, I can directly translate "six hundred and eighty-three" into 6-8-3. This has so confused me over the years that I have swallowed my pride and reach for the calculator as soon as I can.