Math whiz hopes method will multiply

August 10, 2009 5:51pm CST
BY JOSH SHAFFER - Staff Writer Published: Mon, Aug. 10, 2009 05:02AMModified Mon, Aug. 10, 2009 11:20AM FUQUAY-VARINA -- On a yellow scratch pad, Albert Clay works out a math problem that can stump a calculator -- and all of the ciphering occurs inside his white-haired head. In seconds, Clay multiplies a pair of five-digit numbers and writes down the answer in a single line. There's none of the sloppy rows of zig-zagging numbers that would normally clutter a page. Such is the beauty of his homemade formula -- titled "How to Multiply Any Number by Any Number in Your Head" -- which is registered as TXu001325432 in the U.S. Copyright Office. "There may not be anybody else in the world who knows how to do this but me," said Clay, 75, a retired pharmacist. "Zip, zip, zap and add 'em together." Clay worked out his system as a high school junior in Granville County, and aside from the Oxford High School math teacher who shrugged off his achievement, he never really showed it to anyone. Now, with his copyright, he'd like to demonstrate the ease of big-number arithmetic in classrooms, or even get it into math books. Send him $33, and he'll pass along a copy, postage paid. "It's not complicated once you crack the code," he explained. Clay's method is best explained on paper. Suffice it to say you multiply the digits on the right, cross-multiply and add the digits in the center, then multiply the digits on the left. Using that formula, you can work out 33 x 44 in about three seconds. It takes a little longer for Clay to figure 54,321 x 12,345, but when he tries it on a pocket calculator, the electronic number cruncher's screen is too puny. Advantage: human. It becomes clear when you see Clay's written explanation, and it's that six-page booklet that earned him a copyright. You can't copyright ideas, but you can get the legal rights to the way you explain them, said Anthony Biller, attorney with the Cary firm Coats & Bennett, which specializes in intellectual property law. Clay's technique may be novel, but there are dozens of tricks for multiplying large numbers without pen or pad, especially in China and Japan, said Moody Chu, math professor at N.C. State University. Chu knows of a competition in East Asia that has schoolchildren racing to spit out the answers to three-digit problems, all figuring done silently and hands-free. "The trick is to have a good memory," he said, "and a trick." But Clay just wants to pass along the product of his wandering mind, which still keeps him up late at night figuring random schemes: ways to trisect a triangle, or the best way to squeeze a miniature golf course into the N.C. State Fair. He'd love to share them with you. ----------------------------------- I have read the above article here - and I think this is an interesting read. This, according to some comments, has been taught early on (to our grandmas and grandpas) but were shut off by the new teaching (that we need to do it step by step). Do you know Clay's method? How do we do it?
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