Can You Win Pioneer Woman's Big Fat Smartypants Quiz?

Well, I sure can’t. Unless I work the numbers.

I’m a subscriber of Ree. Well, the homeschool part of Ree’s site The Pioneer Woman. And I just got the post titled Big Fat Smartypants Quiz in my email.

I like to fancy myself as pretty smart. And I’m sometimes more confident that I should be.

So I took the bait.

Turns out, the only way I’m going to win this Smartypants Quiz is to work the numbers.

How do I work the numbers?

The first step to cheating (and let’s be honest, that’s what this is) is understanding the landscape.

The questions on this quiz aren’t logical. They’re trivial. Which means you have to be knowledgable, not clever or intelligent.

There are tons of things I am – but knowledgeable I’m not.

How many ways can I answer?

The first two questions are no-brainers. Name and email. Got it.

Of the remaining 18 questions – 16 have four options. The other two (#14 and #16) are yes/no questions.

Assuming I know my name and email address, the number of possible responses by one person (me) is

Or 17,179,869,184.


Which means that the probability of randomly guessing and winning is 0.0000000000582076609.

That’s, well… pretty small.

And if I gave it a shot (to randomly guess) it would take 544 years to go through all the options (if I could submit a new answer set every second).

By that time Ree would have given someone else the iPad and everyone involved would be dead.

But… can I win anyway?

No sense in guessing from the start. I’ve already decided that it would take too long. So I need another tactic.

Thus, I need to know other things about this quiz.

FACT: I get immediate feedback on what grade I make.

That might be helpful.

Doing some testing I can determine that…

FACT: I get no points for entering my name and email address.

Seems dumb, I know, but if I get points for name and email, then I have to keep putting them in while I do my experiments.

There are some things I know!

I know that the 10th letter in the Greek alphabet is kappa (it’s a math thing), so I go for answering only question #5 and find…

FACT: I earn 6% for a correct answer on #5, with no other questions answered.

I remember that Juliet gets mad that Romeo drank all the poison, so I go for #7 as “a dagger.”

FACT: I earn 6% for a correct answer on #7.

So it looks like each question (other than name and email) get 6 percentage points. But 18 * 6 = 108. Way more than 100.


Now I do what all good mathematicians (and cheaters) do. I wonder…

CONJECTURE: I’ll bet the two yes/no questions are only worth 2 percentage points.

I recall Katherine Hepburn being married to just about everyone. So I answer “true” to #14. I get ZERO percentage points. So I try again with the opposite.

FACT: Strangely, my conjecture was wrong. I got all 6% for answer “false” on #14.

So I do more experiments!

It takes me less than two hours to experiment and get a 100% on the quiz. Significantly less than 544 years.

I gave myself the gold star!

“How can I use this with my kids?” you ask?

Ah… there’s the kicker!

Math isn’t just about numbers and books and getting the right answer. Math is about figuring stuff out.

It’s about wondering, guessing, playing. It’s about conjecturing and getting stuff wrong.

And it’s sometimes about brute force – getting your hands dirty and finding out what the heck is gonna get you to success.

Play a game or take a quiz.

The next time you and the kids have an opportunity to play a game or take a test or quiz, see how you can do it without really doing it. Point out that the logic behind things is really just math.

And enjoy it!

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