While trying to find interesting ways to get her students interested in math my mom consulted many different resources. After searching for a while she remembered a game that one of her math professors taught her. The game is called Nim. She taught it to me when we were waiting for our food at a restaurant. I was becoming impatient, as most seven year olds do when waiting a long time for food. She said “okay, okay, okay…. I have something for you to do.” She grabbed her purse, pulled out her wallet, and began pulling out some coins. She began to explain, “I am going to teach you a game. You can play it with just about any small object. Since we have coins we are going to play the game with those.” She began placing the coins on the table into three rows. One row had three coins. The row right below it had four coins. The last row had eleven coins. She proceeded to explain how to play the game. “Each player takes turns removing coins from one row. You can remove as many coins as you want as long as they are all in the same row. For example, on your first turn you can remove all of the coins from the first row. Then I could remove all of the coins from the second row. The goal of the game is to be the person to take the last coin. Some versions of the game say that you don’t want to be the person to take the last coin, but we will play this way.” We then began to play a few games and I lost all of them. It is not enough to just know the rules of the game. You also need a strategy. My mom has played the game many times and has learned from other players. As a result she had developed a decent strategy while I had to develop my own as we played. My mom has a degree in biochemistry and a Master’s degree in educations. She teaches math to high schoolers. She enjoys doing math puzzles and learning to code. As a result, she has collected an enormous amount of folklore. Predominantly from her students. Some of this folklore is unique to each niche while other pieces span multiple groups. This provides a unique perspective on folklore from these rather similar groups. I found the game very interesting and continue to play it today. Similar games are brought up in my classes and we have to develop algorithms to play the game such that you can always win. Both my mom and I enjoy the strategy that goes into this game. Every now and then I challenge her to a match to see if I can beat her yet.
For another version of the game checkout this online edition at http://education.jlab.org/nim/.