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Where was mime-matics when I was a child convinced I was bad at math? Pretty sure I would have changed my mind after a few laughs at this comedy show.

Robert Strauss describes it for the New York Times.

“Without saying a word, a man walks on stage carrying a case full of small plungers. Each time he reaches in the case to take some plungers out, he tries to array them in order on a table in front of him, but he always has one left over. Five, seven, 13: No matter what number, there is still that one left alone, and the man gets visibly, but silently, more exasperated at each turn.

“The man is a mime named Tim Chartier, whose day job is associate professor in the department of mathematics and computer science at Davidson College in North Carolina. The plunger skit and many others that he and his wife, Tanya, have developed are part of their Mime-matics business. Having learned from the master of the craft, Marcel Marceau, they use their skills in mime to teach mathematics in a decidedly unconventional way. …

“At Davidson, he teaches a course called Finite Math, which often fills the math/science requirement for history and English majors.

“ ‘It is probably the last time these students will ever take a math course, so I see myself as the last chance they have to have a good experience with math,’ he said. ‘On the first day, I tell them that many of them will one day sit at a table where their kid will ask whether he or she should like math and science. I tell them I want them to get one story to tell that kid that will be positive in the next 16 weeks. It is an important moment in that class. They start looking for a good experience.’

“The Chartiers, who themselves have two children, 8 and 12, said they wanted their approach to Mime-matics to deliver the same positive experience. Even when they perform at colleges, the audiences are filled with children and their parents.

“ ‘Kids start laughing at the sketches and that frees up their parents, who might have long been afraid of math. The kids break the ice,’ said Ms. Chartier, who added that she particularly wants to fight the perception that math is for boys and writing is for girls, and hopes that Mime-matics entices girls to become more attracted to math.” More here.

Photo: Andy McMillan for The New York Times
Tim Chartier practicing a skit. He and his wife perform at colleges, math conferences, festivals and schools across the country.
 

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“New York City is using poetry to boost traffic safety. The city is installing 200 colorful 8-inch square signs featuring haiku about safety at cultural spots, schools, and high accident areas. In an age when many messages compete for attention, officials hope that ones such as

‘Oncoming cars rush
‘Each a 3 ton bullet
‘And you, flesh and bone’

“will encourage pedestrians to exercise caution.”

So writes the Innovators Insights listserv, linking to the CBS New York news story, where you will find some amused and amusing comments from New Yorkers.

“ ‘What we’ve learned that is that the more innovative the message and with a little bit of humor, or something a little off beat, is much more effective form of communication,’ Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said.”

Reminds me of my October post on traffic mimes in Caracas. Remember? There’s something delightfully incongrous about traffic adminsitrators being the ones, out of all possible professions, to use mimes and haiku to further their work objectives.

But maybe I don’t know much about traffic administrators.

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Who wouldn’t love this story? Remember the mime Marcel Marceau? Now try to picture him directing traffic in a crazy intersection.

According to an article in the Canadian Press, by Christopher Toothaker (really his name), “Caracas, Venezuela, is placing over a hundred mimes on its busy streets to admonish reckless drivers and pedestrians. The mimes, dressed in clown-like outfits and wearing white gloves, may frown and gesticulate the command of ‘stop’ to motorcyclists roaring towards crosswalks or wag their fingers at jaywalking pedestrians. Although some reprimanded motorists have predictably hurled insults, mimes have reported that most people have reacted agreeably. Caracas is following the example set by Bogota, Columbia, which has successfully used mimes in a broader effort to increase commuter civility.”

Let’s bring back the Works Progress Administration and employ people as mimes. I can think of lots of intersections that need them, mostly in Boston. (But learning to be a mime is probably not as easy as it seems.)

****

With the increase in vehicle crimes
Caracas has turned to some mimes.
They’ve slowed down the speeding,
Which no one was needing,
And inspired these few awkward rhymes.

Your turn. (If you use the French pronunciation, “meem,” that opens a whole other slate of rhyming options.)

P.S. Isn’t there a literary character — probably in Dickens — who keeps “dropping into poetry”?

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