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Food for thought at MI Georgios - Solve a math problem, eat for free

By Shara Choi

After school most days, some Islander Middle School students head directly to a local sandwich shop to solve math problems. Say whaaa?

Jeff Lyons, one of the proprietors of Georgios Subs at the South-end QFC Village, will give a kid a free 6-inch sub sandwich if he or she can solve a math problem Dr. Frank Christopherson, a professor at Seattle Pacific University, posts at the shop. The ongoing contest is aptly named: ``Food for Thought.''

The idea came to Lyons when Christopherson amazed Lyons one day with a simple mathematical magic trick.

``Then we had a bit of a brainstorm,'' Christopherson remembered.

Lyons proposed that if Christopherson came up with a tough math problem, posted it at his sub shop and a kid solved it correctly, Lyons would reward the student with a 6-inch sub sandwich of choice.

Food for Thought has been a huge success. Every day after school, kids gather at Georgios to hang out, chat and solve problems and of course, eat. The entryway of Georgios narrow establishment is piled with schoolbooks and packs.

The questions presented to the students are mathematically-based problems. Sometimes physics is involved, but they are usually able to solve the problems using math, and if they are ambitious and hungry-enough, a little outside help.

One of the problems Christopherson proposed stumped many adults as well as kids: Imagine the Earth as a perfect inelastic sphere. Around the circumference, we tighten a metal belt so that it fits snugly around the planet. Then someone cuts the belt and inserts an additional length of one foot. The belt is reassembled to rise off the planet so that every part of the belt is the same distance off the ground. How far does the belt rise off the ground?

Some of the students hang around in the sub shop and work on the problems themselves, while others take them home, search the Internet or ask teachers how to solve the problems.

If the student takes the time to find out the answer to a particular problem, Christopherson believes they will learn from it.

``Sometimes they `cheat' and go and ask the teacher what the answer is, and I say that's not really cheating because that's homework,'' Christopherson explained.

Lyons says that he gives away about four or five 6-inch subs a week to kids who come up with the correct answer. He makes them work too. He makes them write down the solution; a verbal correct answer is not enough to win a sandwich.

``I wanted kids to have extra activities after school so they don't go off and do other things. This is for the kids; I have a relationship with these kids. I love these kids,'' Lyons said. ``If they're here, even though they're being rowdy, they're not getting into any trouble.''

The answer is computed by relating the circumference of the sphere to the radius. Divide the additional length of the `belt' (12 inches) by two pi. The answer: the belt will rise up off the earth 1.91 inches at all points along the equator.

Eun-Ju Shara Choi is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory, Newslab.

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