Story Problems and Escape Pods

This is a continuation of a previous post. If you'd like to read it first, click here.

Danny managed to sit in his seat just as the last bell in the school chimed. He barely avoided another tardy by bolting down the hall while ducking under the little windows in every classroom door. His dad had dropped his mother and sister off first before driving like a crazy person to get him to school. Like a scene straight out of an action film, the van had rocked back and forth it dodged cars, swung around corners and squealed tires. When his father skidded up to the school, he yelled, “GO! GO! GO!”

"Danny run!" shouted Molly from the school's main door. Molly was Danny's best friend and the one always helping to keep him out of trouble. "You'll be late again if you don't hurry!" Danny turned to say goodbye to his dad but the van was already screeching around the corner and headed out of sight. Quickly he started running toward Molly. She waved him down the hallway toward Mrs. Grinkle's 2nd grade classroom, her arm a giant windmill of motion. "You're cutting it kind of close aren't you?" snickered Molly as he breathlessly flew past her bolted down the hallway.

Slamming into the door jam of his classroom, Danny lost the last of his oxygen. He’d forgotten to breathe while running down the hall again. Gasping and panting heavily he plopped down at his desk and tried his best to smile innocently at his teacher. Her pursed lips and stare didn’t seem to be buying it. Molly had somehow managed to calmly enter the classroom, close the door behind her and take her seat next to him during all of his commotion.

Molly rolled her eyes at Danny, "Another daydream? I bet you missed breakfast too." Danny was about to say she wasn't being fair but knew she was right. Molly was, after all, his best friend and she knew all about his daydreams. Once, when their families were having a picnic together, she actually had to throw a cupcake at his head to snap him out of one.
"I couldn't help it Molly," he said. "There was this bird and I started thinking about how its wings worked and why it could fly and the next thing I knew..."

"Perhaps Danny can help explain how to solve this problem then?" Mrs. Grinkle was staring directly at Danny over her thin, black glasses. "Since you seem to be in a talking mood, you won't mind telling the rest of the class about problem number five on page thirty seven? Please read it aloud to the class then show us how to solve it." Mrs. Grinkle always sounded as if she had two cats fighting inside her throat. Her voice was the kind of scratchy, hissing thing that made your shoulders try to cover your ears. "We're waiting Mr. Traumer." The whole class was giggling except for Molly who was looking at him hopefully.

Danny opened his math book and turned to page thirty seven. To his horror, it was a story problem. Danny didn't mind solving math problems when printed as equations. Story problems, on the other hand, were his worst enemy because the numbers were hiding in a story. Not only did you have to find all of the hidden numbers, you had to figure out what to do with those numbers once you had them. If you forgot just one piece of the problem or didn't read carefully enough, the puzzle was impossible to solve.

"Today Mr. Traumer." Mrs. Grinkle's voice seemed to find an unusually high note.

"Problem number five." Danny read the title as officially as he could. "If a ship carrying eight hundred passengers and two hundred crew members..." Danny's voice trailed off into a mumble.

"I'm sorry Danny," Mrs. Grinkle screeched, "this is not working. Please try to keep quiet and pay attention as we work on the problem. Now who here can tell me..." Mrs. Grinkle's voice seemed to fade away as the blood rushed to Danny's face. He couldn't even look at Molly as he sat back down. If he did, he might start to cry. Danny could already feel the warm rush moving from the back of his neck to his eyes. Trying to hide his face, Danny tried to finish reading problem number five to himself:

"If a spaceship carrying eight hundred passengers and two hundred crew members came under attack from the evil Commander Zarock..."

Danny blinked, "Zarock? Evil Commander? That's not what it said. Come on man, focus..."

"If a spaceship, the U.S.S. Dante, carrying eight hundred colonists and two hundred soldiers and crew were on a special mission for the high council..."

"Danny!" Molly was pulling on his suit. "Snap out of it! Zarock is attacking us!" the hallway was on fire and crewmen were running back and forth trying to save what they could from the blasts. "We have a real problem. Zarock has damaged our primary engine and all of our weapons aren't working. We're sitting ducks! The captain wants to see you right away."

Molly grabbed Danny's arm and began leading him through a maze of corridors and explosions. Along the way they passed a giant window. Danny could see they were in space floating above two planets. He could also see Zarock's huge spaceship. Twirling smoke trails were stretching forward from the ship toward the very corridor he was running through. "We're here. Now close the..." Before Molly could finish, several missiles slammed into the ship and the stasis field around the hallway collapsed.

Before Danny could react, large hands grabbed his shoulders and yanked him through an airlock that almost caught his feet as it hissed shut. Captain Morrison stood above him and motioned to the ship's main console where a screen was flashing lots of numbers. "We have a serious problem Danny." Before Danny could ask any questions, the captain continued, "When Zarock first attacked, we sent the device and our scientists to hide down on the planet. Unfortunately, some of the crew and passengers began to panic and launched several of our escape pods before they were full." The captain touched the screen and Danny could see a number of flashing escape pods waiting to launch. "We still have nine hundred at fifty people on the ship and only ninety six escape pods left."

"Isn't that enough to save everyone?" Danny could feel a math problem sneaking up on this conversation. Danny hoped that if he asked the right questions, the captain would solve it for him.

"Unfortunately," the captain sighed, "each escape pod carries two food units to feed the survivors after they land. Those food units take up the space of two people. Our escape pods can only carry eight people plus the food."

Danny froze. If what the captain said was correct, some people would be left behind when the ship was destroyed. Danny grabbed a pencil from a nearby desk and found a scrap of paper. "If we only have 96 escape pods and each one can only carry 8 people..." Danny stopped and began to panic. He had some numbers but what could he do with them? How many people would be saved? How many would be left behind? His heart started to be harder and sweat was beading on his forehead. Suddenly, everything went quiet and Danny could hear a quiet voice say,

"Daydream the answer. Imagine the people and numbers were something else. Marbles perhaps?"

Danny quickly imagined that each escape pod was a jar for holding marbles. He took 8 marbles from the giant pile of 950 and dropped them in the first imaginary jar. He did it again and again until he imagined that he had filled 96 jars with 8 marbles each. When he was done, there were still 182 marbles left outside all of the jars. "We'll lose one hundred and eighty two people!" Danny shouted in horror. The captain looked back at Danny and just nodded quietly. "We can't let that happen," cried Danny, "it isn't fair!"

Captain Morrison looked at Danny sadly, "We don't have any other choice son. There is no way to save everybody."

Danny looked back at Molly and could tell by the look on her face that she already knew what was about to happen. He closed his eyes and imagined he was playing with the marbles again. Inside each of the jars, he could see an apple taking up space. An idea began to form in Danny's mind when the ship's intercom squeaked to life,

"Ladies and gentlemen, crew members and soldiers. Commander Zarock has disabled our ship and will destroy it if we do not turn over the device. We all knew how important this mission was and we all signed on knowing the risks. We have no weapons, our engines are dead and the primary core is overloading. With regard to our escape pods, there is only enough room..."

"Wait!" Danny shouted. "I have an idea!" The captain paused and looked at Danny, "If we take the food units out of the escape pods, it will give us more room for people! I know it doesn't sound like much but look." Danny wrote on the paper, 96 x 2 = 192. "See, if we take out all of the food units, we get an extra 2 seats in each escape pod. That's more than enough to save 182 people. In fact, if we stuff 10 people into each escape pod, we'll only use 95 of them. That's an extra escape pod to put 10 units of food!"

Both the captain and Molly were staring at Danny. The captain quickly turned on the intercom, "Everyone, we have a new plan! Take out the food units from the escape pods and put ten people in each escape pod. We're all going to make it!"

Moments later, Danny, Molly and the captain watched their spaceship explode as Commander Zarock shot it to pieces with his two giant cannons. Danny looked down at the planet they were about to land on. From here it looked like a giant blue marble rushing up to meet them.

He closed his eyes and braced for impact.

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