Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.


January 21, 2014

It’s awesome when people get together to help other people, and build something really cool-looking at the same time. That’s what happens every year at Canstruction, a big New York event where people build giant statues out of cans of food. As you see, these Despicable Me guys are made of cans of tuna fish; there were also statues of lizards, birds, castles, and a giant spiral. The cans aren’t empty, by the way, so these statues are heavy to build and hard to balance; it takes experts like architects and engineers to stack them up. Builders win prizes like Best Meal (the statue with the yummiest mix of foods) and Best Use of Labels (great colors and patterns). After it’s over, the cans are given to City Harvest, which passes them on to 1 million New Yorkers who don’t have enough food. Maybe Despicable Me is a good guy after all.

Wee ones: How many canned Despicable Me characters can you count in the photo?

Little kids: How many colors of cans are on the front Despicable Me guy? (You can ignore the black and white eyeballs, which aren’t made of cans.)  Bonus: His right arm looks like it has 15 yellow cans with 3 red/black cans hanging from them. How many cans does his arm have?

Big kids: Each Despicable Me guy has what looks like 41 rows of tuna cans. If tuna cans are 2 inches tall, how tall are the statues?  Bonus: What does that equal in feet and inches – and how much taller than you are they? (Reminder: A foot has 12 inches.)

The sky’s the limit: How many cans did it take to build each of these statues? Do some counting and some math, and see what you come up with! (You “can” assume the statue is hollow – just cans around the outside surfaces.)




Wee ones: 2 guys.

Little kids: 4 colors: yellow, blue, gray for the headband, and red/black for the hands and feet (and if you see another color, feel free to add on).  Bonus: 18 cans.

Big kids: 82 inches.  Bonus: 6 feet 10 inches – and for how much taller, different for everyone.

The sky’s the limit: We got 748…here’s what we did.  We counted about 23 equal layers in the head and shoulders/chest, and 11 cans in the half of the layer we can see, making 22 cans per layer. That comes to 460+46=506 cans. For the pants, we assumed each layer has 2 fewer cans than the layer above it.  For the 8 layers in the pants, that means adding 20+18+16+14+12+10+8+6…to add that quickly, that’s the same as four 14s and four 12s, or eight 13s, or 104 more cans. For the head, similar thing: six layers would give 20+18+16+14+12+10, which is the same as six 15s, or 90. That gives us 506+104+90, which comes to exactly 700. Then there are 36 in the arms (we count 18 in each) and 12 in the feet (6 in each), for a guess of 748 tuna cans in each statue.

And a big thank-you to Suzanne D. for sharing this topic!

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking while still in diapers, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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