Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Puzzle poems from Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker (1731 - 1806) was a free African American mathematician and almanac author -- also an astronomer, surveyor, and farmer. (I learned of his work through my friend Greg Coxson, an engineer, teacher, and fan of mathematical poetry -- and Coxson learned of Banneker through a school project of his son.)  Beyond building a wooden clock and helping to lay out the borders of Washington, DC, Banneker predicted the 1789 solar eclipse and included rhyming math puzzles in his almanac.  Coxson introduced me to a fine website, established by by John F. Mahoney of Washington, DC's Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, entitled The Mathematical Puzzles of Benjamin Banneker.
     Banneker's Almanack had an eclectic mix of astronomy/astrology, medical advice, weather prediction, and other things.  Here's a math-problem-poem from that Almanack -- found, along with others, at Mahoney's site

The Puzzle of the Hound and the Hare      by Benjamin Banneker

When fleecy skies have Cloth'd the ground
With a white mantle all around
Then with a grey hound Snowy fair
In milk white fields we Cours'd a Hare
Just in the midst of a Champaign
We set her up, away she ran,
The Hound I think was from her then
Just Thirty leaps or three times ten
Oh it was pleasant to see
How the Hare did run so timorously
But yet so very Swift that I
Did think she did not run but Fly
When the Dog was almost at her heels
She quickly turn'd, and down the fields
She ran again with full Career
And 'gain she turn'd to the place she were
At every turn she gan'd of ground
As many yards as the greyhound
Could leap at thrice, and She did make,
Just Six, if I do not mistake
Four times She Leap'd for the dogs three
But two of the Dogs leaps did agree
With three of hers, nor pray declare
How many leaps he took to Catch the Hare.


Just Seventy two I did Suppose,
An Answer false from thence arose,
I doubled the Sum of Seventy two,
But still I found that would not do,
I mix'd the Numbers of them both,
Which Shew'd so plain that I'll make Oath,
Eight hundred leaps the Dog did make,
And Sixty four, the Hare to take.

As well as offering several others of Banneker's puzzle-poems, Mahoney's site provides explanations to assist the reader. Here is a link to Puzzle 5A cooper and vintner sat down . . .

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