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Mad Math, or Math Libs


Did you ever play Mad Libs? I loved to play this game on long car rides when I was a kid. You could get books of them in the drug store, and best of all, your parents didn’t mind spending the money to get you a whole package, because it was “educational”!

Now the game has a new online incarnation:, and you can even find an app to play it.

In Mad Libs there is a leader, who asks everyone else to give them words to fill in the blanks — but the leader does not tell the rest of the group the story until all the blanks have been filled in! Once the blanks are all filled in, the leader reads the story to much hilarity.

I created my own story, with a twist — it has numbers at the end that students also have to fill in. When my students finish reading out the story, they also read out and do the problems they have created. The particular problems you’ll see below involve factoring, but could be changed to suit any topic. The great thing about this game is that it brings in topics from English (interdisciplinary!) and story telling. It gets students laughing and more ready to do the problems, and it allows students to create their own problems.

Mad Math: Factoring Frenzy


  • The group leader does not show the group this piece of paper!
  • The leader asks each person in the group in turn to contribute a word, letter or number until all the blanks are filled in, including the number blanks for the factoring problems.
  • If a person gets stuck on a word, they can use one of the ones on the board.
  • Then the leader reads the story and the group works out the problems.

My ___________ subway ride started when a giant  ___________   _____________ up from the subway               adjective                                                                    animal         verb ending in –ed               

and into the ____ train.  People were  ___________, but I got a ___________, so I was ___________.

                  letter                                    verb ending in –ing               noun                                adjective

When I got to school, my ___________ professor would not ___________my excuse and said that if

                                                       adjective                                        verb

was late one more time, I would get a ____. What a ___________ day! Luckily, I found out that if I could

                                                               letter                    adjective

do these ___________ factoring problems, everything would be ___________!

                   adjective                                                                                 adjective

Factor:                             Caution: one of the problems is not factorable!


  1. x2 + 3x___                                             2.  x2 –  ___x + 25                                 3.  x2 + 12x +  ___

an integer between 3 and 5          an  integer between 9 and 11      a perfect square betw 30 &40

 4. x2 – ___                                                16x2 –  ___                                6. x2 +  ___

any perfect square                              an odd perfect square                              any perfect square 

Bonus: change the problem that is not factorable into one that is.

The word file here: mad-math-example gives you a better copy, plus some signs I made up to put around the room so that students would know what an adjective, adverb and noun were.

I invented this game at a What’s Your Game Plan workshop, with the help of Joe Bisz, Carlos Hernandez and Francesco Crocc. Much thanks, you guys!

Japanese Ladder Games for Combinatorics

Three fascinating games from Steven T. Dougherty and Jennifer Franko Vasquez at The University of Scranton appear as “Ladder Games” in MAA Focus, June-July 2011. Mathematicians will enjoy the group theory and combinatorics used to explain the way the games work, while their students will have fun with these games as an intuitive introduction to the concepts.

The authors write that the three games, “…can be played by anyone regardless of their level of mathematical sophistication. When you are done playing these highly addictive games you will have a deeper understanding of permutations and group actions and you will learn a very interesting connection to coding theory. We have found that the games are very enjoyable to play and that players end up understanding complex mathematical ideas without realizing they have done so.”

Bingo in a Math Lecture


This game could work in any definition-heavy math or science class lecture. In statistics class, hypothesis testing is traditionally one of the most difficult units, filled with new vocabulary and difficult concepts. To alleviate tension introducing this topic, I used bingo cards, with the vocabulary words randomized on it.

See the full story in the Faculty Focus.