Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Thrill of History, the Agony of Math

The Thrill of History, the Agony of Math
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Narrator: It's a test of desire and learning, grit and knowledge, as each participant lives his or her lifelong dream. Each one has endured countless hours of grueling pain to reach this point. But for all their dreams and efforts, only one will be crowned champion. Only one can win the coveted gold medal at the 14th Annual Eastern Iowa Academic Olympics!

Jim: I'm Jim Lehrer of PBS' "Newshour with Jim Lehrer." It's a beautiful sunny day here at Stephen Hawking stadium in Cedar Falls, Iowa, as we get ready for the Academic Olympics. It's been a long journey for these academic athletes, who have studied, trained, and prepared for their moment in the spotlight, and their chance at Academic Olympic gold. I'm joined by my colleague and fellow sportscaster, Gwen Ifill of "Washington Week in Review," and Terrell Owens, wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. How are you, Terrell?

Terrell: Great. Uh, did you say Academic Olympics?

Jim: Yes, I did. Gwen, how are you?

Gwen: Superb, Jim. You know, these athletes are true champions in every sense of the word. Their love of competition is admirable, their quest for knowledge, epic. Although only one can lay claim to Eastern Iowa's smartest high school student, they're all winners in my book.

Terrell: Stupid Drew Rosenhaus. He told me I was doing commentary on the Olympics.

Jim: It looks like they're getting ready to start the first event, the 100 meter Pi Recitation Dash.

Terrell: Did somebody say pie? What kind?

Gwen: In this competition, each athlete -- or should I say "mathlete?"

Jim (laughs): Gwen, you're hysterical.

Gwen (snorts with laughter): Thank you. As I was saying, each athlete must recite as many decimal places of pi as possible in 9.8 seconds.

Jim: They're under starter's orders.

Starter: Athletes, take your mark. . . get set. . .

Jake: 3.14159--

Starter: FAULT!

Jim: Ooh, that's too bad. Jake Mayer of Ottumwa North High has started too early, and has been given his first fault. One more, and he'll be disqualified.

Gwen: Jake is talking with his coach, Frank Fahy. What do you think they're talking about Terrell?

Terrell: Where's the pie?

Jim: You're probably right. Coach Fahy is reminding Jake to stay focused on the event, and keep his mind on nothing but reciting pi. While we're waiting for the race to resume, let's go over to the History Hurdles and our good friend, Charlie Rose.

Charlie: Thanks Jim. We're getting ready to start the 100 meter History Hurdles, and event favorite Lindsey Settles of Waterloo High School is in lane five. She's favored to win three gold medals at these games, and this is her signature event. Competitors are at the starting line. . . there's the gun! The athletes are racing down the track, approaching the first hurdle.

Lindsey: Napoleon Bonaparte!

Charlie: And Lindsey clears it easily with her answer of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. She's approaching the second hurdle, and. . .

Lindsey: The Hoot-Smawley tar-- OW!

Charlie: Ooh! Lindsey goes down! She is out of the race! I repeat, Lindsey Settles is out of the race. Donetta Greene of Grover Cleveland Preparatory goes on to easily win with her answer, the Truman Doctrine. and a time of 10.14 seconds. You can't imagine the agony and heartbreak Lindsey must be experiencing. Back to you, Jim, and the 100 meter Pi Dash.

Terrell: Where's that freakin' pie?!

Gwen: I'm know what you mean, Terrell, I'm excited too. While we're waiting, let's head over to the Calculus Pole Vault with Terry Gross of NPR's "Fresh Air."

Terry: Thanks, Gwen. As Archimedes once said, "Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I can move the world." In the spirit of Archimedes, these athletes require a high-tech fiberglass pole, and a solid understanding of upper-level high school mathematics to clear these dizzying heights. We're getting ready to watch the final jump of our leader, Carl Somersby of Indianola Central High, who will attempt a jump of 'f(x) dx = F(b) - F(a)' feet.

The judge gives the order. Carl begins his approach, solves for X, plants the pole. . . and he's over! Carl Somersby has won the gold medal for the Calculus Pole Vault! Jim and Gwen, it's pandemonium down here as Carl's team, the Indianola Fighting Protractors, mob Carl to congratulate him on his record breaking performance.

Gwen: Exciting stuff, Terry. We'll come back to you for the gold medal ceremony and the playing of the Olympic anthem, "Mathematika et Lux." Terrell, do you have any thoughts?

Terrell: You guys were lying about the pie, weren't you?

Jim: I'm afraid so.

Terrell: You cheap sons of --

Gwen: Let's take a break to hear from our sponsors. And when we come back, we'll see the conclusion of the 100 meter Pi Dash.

Terrell: There is no pie!!

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