Sunday, December 02, 2007

Jingle Bells vs. Technology

When I was in the elementary school smart-kid program, we were presented with a daunting task on one of our weekly assignments. We were told to calculate how fast the horse was going in Jingle Bells. This was explained to us as the Holy Grail of this program's assessment, with the warning that only a handful of students had ever successfully figured it out.

Sadly, such problems are no match for technology anymore.

For reference, here was the thought process in 1994, as a ten year old would see it:

1. How would you know that? Maybe there are other verses that explain it. But we'd have to go to the library to find out.

2. Get mom to drive you to the library. She can take you on Saturday, so you wait until then.

3. Once there, you ponder whether to go into the safety and comfort of the children's section or wander into uncharted waters (for me at least) in the adult area.

4. Ask the librarian to help you search through the card catalog for Christmas songs' music and lyrics.

5. A few books don't have it and you start to get discouraged. After a few more tries, you find a book that contains Christmas songs, and search for Jingle Bells.

6. Read through all the verses to find some reference to speed or time. There it is, in verse four! "Two forty as his speed!"

7. Now decipher the language. What does "two forty" even mean? Surely a horse can't go 240 miles per hour. This must be an old-timey phrase. 240 furlongs per fortnight?

8. Now you have to research horses. You eventually learn that horse racers refer to their horse's speed in terms of time per mile.

9. 2:40 per mile now has to be converted to miles per hour. 2:40 = 2 2/3 minutes,so (60 minutes/hr) / (2.667 minutes/mile)= 22.5 miles per hour.

10. Call mom to come pick you up.

This is as difficult as it will ever be now:

1. A Google search for "verses of jingle bells" takes you to the Wikipedia page which has all of them.

2. What about the line "two forty as his speed?" Another Google search refers you to several other people asking these questions, which eventually point to the time per mile.

3. Google's converter eliminates pesky math.

Elapsed time: Less than it takes a speedy bob-tailed bay to run a mile.

And even that method was for the suckers who want to burden themselves with extra work. The truly resourceful kids will simply Google the phrase "how fast is the horse in jingle bells" and find their answer in the seventh result.

But there we were, using our brains, like suckers.


Anonymous said...

Yup, and they brought the Apollo 13 men safely back using slide rules. Go figure.

Bryan said...

I still remember that the Sherlocks could either be the shortest part of the weeks homework (if you were lucky enough to find the words in your home dictionary) or the longest (if you had to drive to the library to use their unabridged dictionary/encyclopedia).

Jeremy said...

I remember sometimes it just wasn't worth the trip for one word. "Bazaar" does not mean "odd or strange," but I went with it out of convenience.