Reflections on Becoming a Human Tree

I found the sixth sense, and no, it is not seeing dead people.

It’s a machine that correctly predicts the sum of six numbers –– before the first number is even chosen. Mind blown yet?

If you don’t believe me, visit the National Museum of Mathematics and see for yourself. Normally, when I mention MoMath, I get bewildered stares and comments like: “A Museum of Math? In New York City? I’ve never even heard of it!” Oh, it exists, and it is well worth the bus ride and walk in subfreezing temperatures I took to get there.

The museum has two floors: floor 0 and floor -1. When one curator informed me it would take hours to go through the whole exam, he wasn’t kidding. I was there for probably three hours and barely saw ¾ of the exhibits.

When you first pull the pi door handles and walk into the building, yo



Photo courtesy of Science News.


u are greeted by a tricycle course. However, this isn’t just any tricycle – it has square wheels. You’re able to have a smooth ride because the course is repeated inverted arcs of catenaries. The museum offers a DIY guide to use a square-wheeled trike at home.

Shortly after this exhibit is the “Twisted Thruway”, a Mobius strip you’re able to drive a remote-control car around. Each exhibit has a set of conceptual, history, and real-world application slides on a nearby tablet so you can learn about the mathematical ideas. It was at the Twisted Thruway that my cousin and I read 15 jam-packed slides about Mobius strips and can now tell you not only about Mobius strips but also about knots and unknots.


Kids discover how the “Math Square” responds to their movements. Photo courtesy of LinkedIn

Along with the motion concepts, there are the “Tracks of Galileo”, and you can learn about how to make the fastest path to the bottom of a track.

Down the staircase to floor -1, there is the “String Product.” On a parabola, the lines connecting two numbers light up and these cross the center pole at the product of the two numbers. The exhibit was busy each time I passed, but I was able to read about it and the concept is fascinating! The idea comes from one of the original calculators, and the practice is still used today for things like determining BMI.

On this floor, there is also the “Monkeying Around” exhibit, a type of optical illusion in which shift one part changes the amounts of objects in the image. As it turns out, this was one method criminals once used to make counterfeit money.

After being schooled on counterfeiting, I moved on to “Finding Fifteen” and not only discovered a mathematical strategy for winning that game, but also learned about a way to win Tic-Tac-Toe.

There was also the “Robot Swarm” where glowing robots react to your movement and the position of neighboring robots. It was entertaining to watch little kids marvel at the robots’ behavior.

Another one of my favorite exhibits on this floor was “Edge FX”, basically a real-life Plinko that changed as you varied the probability of the chip falling to each side. Not only did this bring back nostalgia from watching “The Price is Right”, but it also reinforced the probability topics I’m currently learning in AP Statistics.

For those more musically-inclined, there is the “Harmony of Spheres” which is an


Harmonic spheres culture. Photo courtesy of Live Science.

interactive musical sculpture. The shape comes from the 12-tone musical scale. I tried my best to understand how it works, but I’ve never been able to grasp musical notes.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the many exhibits on fractals and tessellations. Just like MoMath satisfies its musicians, it also pleases its artists. You can make some patterns at the “Tile Factory” or change shape to become a “Human Tree.” If you’re feeling bold, you may even walk through the “Wall of Fire.”


Open the doors with Pi door handles! Photo courtesy of

Fire? Is it dangerous? You’ll have to discover that yourself over on 26th street. There were so many exhibits that I, unfortunately, could not write about (or see) them all. So, take my advice and schedule a whole day to revel in the mathematical glory. You’ll need it.

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