I am currently studying for the GRE test, which means I have to reacquaint myself with a lot of mathematical concepts. My Kaplan book says that the GRE “is not a math test” but rather a test of logical thinking. This is false. In many cases, you can’t just pull logical answers out of thin air without knowing a few formulas and processes first. If you don’t know what a median is, you’re not going to figure it out on logic alone.

I like the idea of math. In addition to the also aforementioned “The Phantom Tollbooth” and “Pi”, I enjoyed the Child Craft book “Mathemagic” and the work of Lewis Carroll. (Yes, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” have intentionally illogical premises, but that’s what gives them opportunities to present logical concepts. The guy was a mathematician.) Numbers are not characters, though, and equations are not storylines. That’s probably why the math concepts I remember from elementary school were the ones that were given stories.

For example:

1. x > y means x is greater than y. This is because a crocodile’s mouth is shaped like a >, and the croc always eats the larger number.2. A negative number multiplied by a negative number equals a positive number. This is because when bad things happen to bad people, that’s a good thing (at least if you’re vengeful). To put it another way, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.3. If some kind of alien race landed on Earth and they all had six fingers and six toes, their basic number system would most likely contain two more digits. Instead of 1-10, their system would revolve around 1-12, so multiplying by 12 would be the same way humans multiply by 10: just put a zero after the first number. This is the kind of thing Lewis Carroll liked to do, but in this case, it’s Schoolhouse Rock.

Sometimes math concepts apply to my real-life experiences. During my extensive cashier experience, I repeatedly had to explain to customers that when something is already on clearance for 60% off, using their 30% coupon does not mean they’re getting something for 90% off.

But I have a hard time imagining coordinate geometry. Creative types such as myself are supposed to be good as visualizing things. Yet there’s just no way to say “Once upon a time, there was an x-axis and a y-axis…”. In this case, the only thing you can do is use logic.