Archive for June 11th, 2009

The Second Bunch of Ways to Multiply

June 11, 2009

Napier 1Hey, let’s do some more multiplication!   (See Ways (1)(6) here.)  I promised some that wouldn’t be taught in school (at least not as a practical way to multiply), so that’s where I’ll start.

(7) Greek Multiplication.  This is really different from other kinds of multiplication because it’s based on Geometry.  The Ancient Greeks certainly had the concept of discrete quantities, but in a lot of their mathematics numbers were interpreted as lengths; to multiply a and b like an Ancient Greek, you start with the quantities a and b and also the reference point 1.

Draw two intersecting lines and, from the point of intersection mark lengths 1 and b on one line and length a on the other line, and then draw a line between 1 and a.

Greek Mult 1Starting from b, draw a line that is parallel to the line you just drew.  (I could really have said “construct” because all of this can be done with a straightedge and compass.)

Greek Mult 2

See how the length x is where that line you just drew intersects the line with a?  It turns out that x is the length of the product ab!    It’s actually pretty easy to show this:  the triangle with sides x and b is similar to the triangle with sides a and 1 [they have one angle in common, and because their third side are parallel the remaining pairs of angles are equal as well].  Since they are similar, x/b must equal a/1, and cross multiplication gives x equal to ab.

One nice feature of this is that you can actually see how if b<1 then the positions of 1 and b will be switched, and the product ab will be less than a.

(8) Napier Rods.  These were first published in 1617 in the Rabdologia by John Napier, a Scottish mathematician who is more famous for introducing the idea of logarithms.  Napier Rods, which I just realized are supposed to be called Napier‘s Rods (or Napier’s Bones) are like a portable version of Grid Multiplication, so if they were allowed on Standardized Testing it might take care of that whole time issue.  (Then again, one could ask why these would be allowed and not, say, a calculator.  So I guess this also falls under the cool just because it’s cool category of multiplication.)

Godzilla is here to show how they work.  He’s going to demonstrate how to multiply 3558  by 274.

Start by getting yourself  some Napier Rods.

Napier 1

Do you need to see those up close?  Here they are:

Napier 2

Those are still hard to see aren’t they?  That’s because I don’t know how to focus my camera.  And THAT’S why I love Wikipedia, folks.  Here’s a drawing that (someone?  I can’t tell who) posted on Wiki under GNU-FDL.


So each rod (or bone) has a digit on top, and the multiples of that digit are written underneath.

Since Godzilla wants to multiply 3558 by 274, we’ll start by picking up rods for 3, 5, 5, and 8 and lining them up.  [I printed out two copies of this set of Napier rods since the digit 5 appeared more than once.]  There’s a rod with nothing at the top:  this is called the Index Rod, and it can be put at the right or left.  It just helps you keep track of the rows.

Napier 3

We’re going to multiply this number by 274, so we’ll start by looking in Row 2.

Napier 4a

See how that looks like a little tiny grid from lattice multiplication?  If you add along the diagonals, it shows that 3558×2=07116.

Now let’s multiply by the 7 of 274.  We’ll look in Row 7.

Napier 4b

This shows us (after adding along the diagonals) that 3558×7=24906.  We had to do a little carrying here.

Finally, we’ll multiply 3558 by the 4 of 274.  Look in Row 4:

Napier 4c

So 3558×4=14232.

Now that we have all the pieces we need, we add, keeping track of the place value (by staggering on the left):

Napier Sum

Yay!  We have our answer!  If you prefer to play with a java version that allows you to switch the base, you can find it here at Cut The Knot.

(9) Genaille-Lucas Rulers.  These take the basic concept of the Napier Rods and modify it using shaded triangles in a way that completely eliminates adding and carrying within each row (though you’ll still have to add to get the total at the very end).  They were invented by Frenchmen Henri Genaille and Edouaird Lucas just over a century ago.  Godzilla is using paper versions that Brian Borchers created.

Genaille 1

He’s already lined up the 3558 to do the same multiplication (3558×274) as before.  Let’s take a closer look.  Notice that with this set, the Index piece is aligned on the left.

Genaille 2

OK, we’re going to use the same basic idea as before, where we’ll look in rows 2, 7, and 4.  Let’s start with Row 2:

Genaille 2 row

This row should give us 3558×2.  To read it, start on the RIGHT with the number on the very top.  That’s a 6.  Then you read towards the LEFT, following the little gray triangles.  The final number is 7116.

Now we’ll look at 3558×7:

Genaille 7 row

Again, you start with the number in the TOP of the right-hand column (which is a 6).  Follow the little gray triangles to the next number, to get that 3558×7=24906.

Finally, here is Row 4:

Genaille 4 row

As before when we start from the top of the rightmost column and read to the left we see that 3558×4=14232.

This is a completely mindless way to multiply until you get to the end, where you align your answers (staggered on the right):

Napier Sum

And we have the same answer as before!  And right here is a picture of some of the rods from 1885 in France.  (They and Napier’s Bones were actually more like square prisms, with a different Ruler printed on each side so that each Rod could show one of four different sides depending on what digits you need.)

This post is already rather long, so I’ll end by briefly mentioning three final methods:

(10) Vertically and Crosswise Multiplication (which TwoPi wrote about just over a year ago).  TwoPi tells me that it should probably be called Trachtenberg multiplication, since it was created by the Ukrainian engineer Jakow Trachtenberg while he was imprisioned in a concentration camp in WWII.  (There are widespread claims that this technique is of Vedic origins, but there is little historical evidence to support that.)

Edited to add: Whoops, Trachtenberg might have come up with it on his own, but he wasn’t the first.  It was published in Italy over 500 years ago and was known as Crocetta.  (See Pat’s comment below.)

Edited again (7/8) to add: Looking in “Capitalism and Arithmetic”, I saw that this is attributed even further back, to the Indian Lilavati of around 1150.

(11) and (12) Speaking of multiplication we’ve already talked about, in this post from New Year’s Eve 2007 I wrote about multiplying by 9 on your fingers (I’ll call that #11) and also two Medieval ways to multiply on your fingers.  They’re pretty similar, but one works for multiplying any two of {5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10} and the other works for multiplying any two of {10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15}.  Together I’ll count those as #12.

That’s it for now!  I can think of three more ways offhand (abacus, slide rule, and trig functions) so I’ll write up something about those in the next couple days.  This is fun!