Imaginary Abaci

I wouldn’t be able to do this:

And the high point of the championship is the category called “Flash Anzan” – which does not require an abacus at all.

Or rather, it requires contestants to use the mental image of an abacus. Since when you get very good at the abacus it is possible to calculate simply by imagining one.

In Flash Anzan, 15 numbers are flashed consecutively on a giant screen. Each number is between 100 and 999. The challenge is to add them up.

Simple, right? Except the numbers are flashed so fast you can barely read them.

I just don’t have the capability to visualize things like that (or much of anything). It’s just not how my mind works. Some people think in pictures. I do it with words.

12 thoughts on “Imaginary Abaci

  1. David S

    I grew up in Okinawa, and had some Japanese friends that could do that – absolutely amazing! (She could also calculate large digit square roots in her head using her “imaginary abacus”)

  2. Tom Bri

    It is funny watching her fingers twitch as she calculates metally. I have not seen her touch an actual physical abacus in years.

  3. Jeff Mauldin

    I learned a bit of “chisenbop” or whatever it was in elementary school, using fingers to do addition/subtraction up to 3 digits. I still use it on odd occasion for keeping track of counting up to multiple hundreds. Kind of fun, and easy to show people.

    Also, there was a cool sci-fi story in analog a couple years ago where a marooened alien was doing strange things with his three pairs of hands. Somebody finally figured out he was keeping track abacus style (in 3D) of the trajectory of the ship he had abandoned.

    1. Daver

      There was an Asimov story quite a few years back where a human discovered that he could do arithmetic by pencil and paper instead of using a computer and the military started a program to replace those expensive computers on missiles with cheap humans.

      1. Jeff Mauldin

        “The Feeling of Power” or something close to that. I think I would have said it was Bradbury, but I think you’re right about it being Asimov.

  4. MfK

    I personally run a 900 processor Flash Anzan cluster, where I visualize 900 people each visualizing an abacus.

    It’s blazing fast, but, unfortunately, all results are imaginary…

  5. Karl Hallowell

    Or rather, it requires contestants to use the mental image of an abacus. Since when you get very good at the abacus it is possible to calculate simply by imagining one.

    How do you know the contestants are using an abacus and not some superior computing system?

    MfK, that’s pretty meta. I use 1000 virtual monkeys on keyboards myself. Doesn’t seem to work that well.

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