Learning to Cheat and Steal

Most kids play board games in three stages:

(1) Little kids ignore rules, or learn them but cheat anyway. They think their own cheating is okay, but not anyone else’s.


At this stage, parents let them win. As they should.

(2) By age six or seven, parents let kids start to lose a few games. Ouch! Cheating stops. Kids learn that games played by the rules can be fun!

Not Thinking “How Can I Cheat?”. Thinking “I’ve Got Him Beat!” (Poor Grammar, But Great Winning Attitude, Sugah!)


(3) When kids reach nine, or ten, say–cheating often starts again. Only this time, it’s creative.

Not Always That Creative.


Older kids understand there are subtle unwritten game rules. These are trickier to learn and master. Rules that tell which games do allow certain types of cheating, and which tricks you can get away with without getting “in trouble”–or perhaps just frowned upon by parents or peers.

Cheating at games is so accepted in our culture that it can be the most fun part of a game. Ned Cuthbert thought so in 1865 when he stole second base for (arguably) the first time.

And who hasn’t made backdoor Monopoly deals with a favored sibling (sister/brother) to borrow a hotel (or four!) for Park Place in order to drive another sibling out of the game with extortionate (too-high) rent?


As I child, I had some trouble with these ideas, having Asperger’s. We Aspies have trouble understanding which rules apply in which situations. When was it okay to cheat? Why could some kids get away with cheating, and others not?

How Do Some People Know That God Loves Them More Than the Rest of Us?


When I became a big grown-up and joined the corporate world, I discovered that most grown-ups learn corporate games in similar steps:

(1) They immediately cheat in little ways after learning the basic rules at their company: Taking home office supplies, lying on timesheets, playing games during work time, padding expense accounts.

(2) Some cheaters get caught and get their wrists slapped. They follow the rules for a while after that, and really put their nosies to backside posies.

Top-Notch Censorship Expert Currently Available For Hire. Bonus: Mouth Comes Pre-Puckered and Ready for Dorsal Docking.

(3) But after enough time at a company, the cheating often starts again. And it gets more creative.

It’s Not Lying, It’s Imaginative Truthiness.


Poor Aspie me had trouble again. I was shocked by level l “borrowing” of pencils from the stockroom. “That’s stealing!” Imagine me later when the generally-accepted lifting of supplies at one company where I worked extended to staff walking out the door with laptops and printers, and coming in on weekends to dig up the landscaping for their home gardens. The company simply kept replacing the hoovered plants.

To An Aspie, Corporate Game Rules Are Equally Ever-Changing.


The way the level 3 “creative winning” stuff was broadly admired across all the companies at which I worked was appalling to me. It still is. Even the prey beasts of nasty corporate gameplayers begrudgingly admired their predators. I don’t get it. I don’t understand you neurotypicals (non-Aspies)–and I never will.

One incident that occurred in my very first year as a programmer has stuck with me. I wish it hadn’t.

A very talented programmer, Mandy, had reached out to me and taken me under her wing to mentor, entirely of her own accord. I admired her tremendously. When she noticed someone floundering, she immediately assisted, no matter her own workload demands.

“And This Is How You Switch Back From Netflix When The Head Exec Walks By…”


Julie was struggling on the late afternoon of a three-day project due the next day. Mandy asked, “Can you use some help?”

“Oh, my gosh, yes!”

Julie described what was needed. (She basically needed to develop a cross-referenced index of data base variables found across multiple files.) Mandy gave Julie some suggestions on approach, and shortcuts to get it done.

“Great! Thank you SO much!” enthused a now-happy Julie.

The next morning, a frazzled-looking Julie showed up late for work.

Mandy: “Is everything all right, Julie?”
Julie: “No. I worked all night, and I just couldn’t do it.”
Mandy: “Well show me what you have.”
Julie: “I..I don’t have anything.”

Mandy: “……!”

(Mandy was trying to control her face. So was I, over in my eavesdropping corner.)

Wowzers! Julie’s Project Wasn’t Make-Work. There Were Real Customers Waiting For Real Stuff. (Sidebar: I am totally going to copy that Lego guy ring idea! How cute are they?)


Then, Mandy reached into her attaché case…and pulled out a hand-written preliminary draft version of Julie’s project.

Mandy: “I hope you won’t be upset with me, Julie, but you looked so worried yesterday, and since the project is due at lunch today, I went ahead and worked up a very rough outline to give you an idea of what I was talking about. You still have a few hours before you have to turn in your results. Maybe you can take this as a starting point and get your project done by fleshing this out and typing up your notes.”

Julie: “Mandy!” (throwing her arms around her)


• Julie turned straight around from Mandy’s arms,

• Typed up a new coversheet with HER name on the cover page,

• Hand-delivered “her” report a full three hours ahead of schedule.

Oh No She DIDN’T.


But that’s not the good part. The good part is that, obviously, Mandy found out almost immediately. Even the Vice-President who received the report from Julie’s hands knew it wasn’t Julie’s work, or handwriting. But he still praised Julie, PUBLICLY, for her great work on the project. AND GAVE HER A PROMOTION.

Oh No He DIDN’T!


And the entire staff–with the exception of Mandy and I–thought that what Julie had done took the “admirable” kind of chutzpah. Julie, and everyone else, expected that she and Mandy would still get along just as they had previously.

I Don’t Understand. I’ll Never Understand. I Don’t Want To Understand.

Addendums on Sexism

(1) Although the culprit in my tale is female, it is possible that the corporate climate I describe is more a male than female norm.

“Yes, Virginia, There IS (One) Demonstrated Biologic Gender Difference That Affects Judgement.”

“Research suggests that substantial benefits can be reaped from a more gender-balanced global workforce.”

“Paul J. Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont University, has found…Men under stress tend to secrete high levels of testosterone and become aggressive. Women under stress secrete oxytocin… Due to these hormonal differences, Zak says, women tend to be more effective than men when managing a team of people who have to work cooperatively. Oxytocin increases empathy, patience, and trust…”

“Economists are breaking important ground, too. In 2011, the French academic Marie-Pierre Dargnies’s mixed-gender competition study found that financial teams comprised of men only were less likely to perform well than mixed teams.”

So, it would appear that, contrary to the old (male) “wisdom” that women aren’t suited to be in charge of anything, pilot a plane, etc. due to their raging hormones, it is instead men who are ill-suited to be in charge of anything due to their own literally-raging hormone.

However, perhaps more females and increased teamwork won’t alter the cheating, thieving climate I see as amoral:

Cheating Teamwork

Oxytocin Doing Its Excellent Work

(2) The only form of corporate cheating which was broadly despised at my companies? Women who had slept their way into a position—or who were assumed to have done so. This was considered an unfair advantage by both male and female employees. Yet the male who golfed and was drinking buds with the prez? S’cool. Another who was in line to marry his daughter? Copacetic.

Addendum on Comedy Writing

One of the funniest comedic pieces I’ve ever read is about a chess game played by penpals where both parties are cheating. (TOTAL SPOILER ALERTS HERE.) With no way for either to check the board of the other, and the games and claims growing more divergent, the worst cheater of the two finally suggests they throw in the towel and switch to Scrabble (!). He then announces that he has “just by happenstance” drawn the perfect tiles to play the highest-scoring possible eight-letter word in the game.

(I’d refer you to the piece—I know the title and author—but there is a personal reason I will not. This is why I also issued the spoiler without regret.)

Addendum on What Prompted Me to Write This Post

Last night, I momentarily neglected to credit Michelle at the green study with her great generosity in steering people toward my blog. One theft I despise is credit theft, and a close second is the sin of omission in this regard. My fault last night reminded me of what Julie had done to Mandy.

Today I learned that Maggie at The Zombies Ate My Brains has ALSO steered people to my blog!

Thank you so very much, Michelle and Maggie. Appreciative bows to you both! That the talented writers of two popular blogs have been so kind is deeply appreciated.

That this blog is STILL so lightly read after TWO boost-ups? Credit for THAT is entirely mine : )


A Young Aspie Figures Out Figures

Derp-Alert:  Run away! Head for the next post. This post is of possible interest only to:  Math nerds, some teachers, bored Aspies, parents and friends of Aspies, and regular folk who have finished the back of the toothpaste tube for the n-teenth time and are looking for something with a little more bite (heh, heh–oh, Outlier Babe, you are a laugh riot…).

If This is What Looks Back At You Each Morning, This Post Is For YOU

At age 6, I starting thinking:  “Numbers don’t make any sense.” Why did we decide to represent four objects by the thing that looks like this ?:

The Number 4 Asks Nu

Nu? You’re Asking ME?

Roman numerals were very logical.

...Four Dead Christians, Five Dead Christians...

Arabic ones seemed arbitrary, but I reasoned that there must be a logical basis for them, too. So I sat in Mrs. Thompson’s 2nd grade class writing the numbers 1 through 9 over and over on a piece of paper.

I kept experimenting until I finally figured it out:   It made so much sense!  It all had to do with angles:

Click the Pic for a Lovely Animation of Types of Angles

Just like the Arabs (as I surmised) I drew straight-lined angular digits: A 1 with a single top hook forming 1 angle, a zig-zag 2 having 2 angles, and so on. I was so proud I’d solved the puzzle!

Interfering somewhat with my joy, I’d had to add a distinctly maze-like curl to the tail of the 9 in order to provide sufficient angles, and a base and a European crossbar to the number 7. 

But I was far too pleased with myself my hypothesis to abandon it over these huge, gaping minor failings. 

Here are the numbers exactly as I drew them:

From Jeff's Lunchbreak:  Origin of Arabic Numerals (http://www.jefflewis.net/blog/2009/10/origin_of_arabic_numerals_was_1.html)

1 Through 4 Were No-Brainers

Roman Numeral Trivia: Even after Arabic numbers were adopted, Roman numerals were still sometimes preferred to Arabic ones during medieval times for their reasonable security against fiscal fraud.

For example, any digit of the number 2381 can be altered to cause a substantial difference (as much as 7000 by changing the 2 to a 9), but the equivalent MMCCCLXXXI cannot be easily altered to produce a new number.

– From Math Lair, Roman Numerals


5, 6, and 8 Were Easy, Too. But 7 Is Quite the Cheat...

(I can’t tell you how stunned I was to find my exact original numerals online–as well as other angle-based versions–and to discover for the first time when writing this post that others had also theorized that angles were behind the shapes of Arabic numbers.

Shout-out to my fellow geeks!


...And What a Curly-Tailed Workaround For Number 9!

I liked that my hypothesis explained why Mrs. Thompson insisted we write the number 4 the closed-top triangle way, like it appeared in our math book, instead of the way most people wrote it:

Numberjacks Howdy-Do Four

The “Howdy!” Way of Writing the Number 4 (From “Numberjacks”

Written the “Howdy Do!” way, the number 4 had five angles instead of four, so of course that way was wrong!

Another Reason To Use the Triangle-y Four

I further theorized that over time, people had gotten tired of drawing the 9’s complicated loop-de-loop tail, so they just kind of unwound it until the digit’s whole spine developed scoliosis.

The 7 lost its extra horizontal lines due to laziness, too (except in England, where they aren’t as lazy as we  Americans). 

Yes, I was quite the scientific thinker at my grand old age of 6.

An Even Dumber Classmate

A bonus benefit to my hypothesis was that I was able to use touch math from then on whenever I did addition:

I had already been using it for the digits 2 and 3, touching each pointy digit tip with my pointy pencil tip. (There are two points on the left side of the 2, three on the left of the 3.)  When I added 2 plus 3, I just counted up as I touched each point:

1-2-3-4-5” .

Hear the Strauss? 1-2-3, 1-2-3...

Now I could do the same thing for the bigger digits, by touching each angle (or its imagined historical position) and counting up on those.  Nice.

Many children devise digit-touch systems. A highly-talented Math instructor once told me that these are the children who become stronger in math concepts.

One of My Old Math Teachers Just Heard That...

He said research suggests that children who don’t develop their own touch systems can be taught one to gain the same advantages.

There are commercially-available and cost-free touch math systems. The touch positions on digits differ among systems.

The most prevalent commercial system is Touch Math, described in the References. I take issue with that program’s name, and some of its features, also explained in the References.

Because I was weak in math, it’s too bad no teacher back then introduced me to dice math: 

To instantly recognize the numbers up to 12 visualized like they are on die faces, and to automatically add and subtract by these groups.  Now THAT would have been at least as helpful as touch math.

Dem Bones, Dem Bones Is...Great Fo' Math!

A gentleman named Owen Prince realized this many years back, and developed a dice-based touch math system he copyrighted as Dot Math:

Dot Math Keypad, copyright Owen Prince, from DotMath for kids, http://dotmath.tripod.com/index.html

Dot Math Keypad, copyrighted by Owen Prince, from DotMath for Kids

Some of the opinion portions of Mr. Prince’s site are worded in a way that sounds a little…well…hmmm…perhaps it’s better not to say.

However, I recommend a visit there, anyhow, because his concept is worthwhile and because, after all the “copyright dispute” text (you’ll see what I mean), he gives a lovely, if oddly-worded, helpful review of math resources.

Please see also his Comment on this post, because he gives a detailed, impassioned and, to me, convincing argument in favor of using his system over the commercial Touch Math’s approach.

Okay, this post should end right here, but it’s just gonna keep going and going, so if you’re wise, you’ll stop reading now and go have a nice cup of tea. Enjoy!

Oh–I guess you may as well read the rest while it cools down, then, yeah?

Entirely off-topic, but another helpful idea: 

That same talented math teacher, of 1st graders, did not teach or use the English words for 11 through 19 in his classroom until the end of the year. 

He had his children use the Asian nomenclature “ten-one (versus “eleven”), ten-two (for “twelve”), ten-three…”.  He continued this pattern when using his number poster that displayed numbers up to 100 (so, for “55” he said “five-ten-five”).

This teacher considered this a key feature in enabling his students to retain the place value concepts that he felt they developed naturally but which were otherwise interfered with by English number terminology.

Happy Grandma Ratty: “Let’s See: That’s 5-ten Baby Ratties In Those Last Litters, Each Baby Will Have 10 More Babies…

Each year, all of that talented teacher’s 1st grade students ended their first year in school testing at a 3rd grade Math level.

(BTW, I can say from budget-driven experience that Cheerios threaded onto coffee stirrers stuck vertically into clay work just fine for abacuses, if you can prevent snacking to hide evidence of miscalculations.)

Relevant:  From a June, 2010 review of  literature on cross-cultural mathematics instructional and learning, Chinese Number Words, Culture, and Mathematics:

“Although it is not possible to disentangle the influences of linguistic, cultural, and contextual factors on mathematics performance, language is still seen as contributing to early cross-national differences in mathematics attainment.”

Imagine if every classroom across America instituted that teacher’s simple terminology change today. 

Easily implemented, easily taught to teachers with five minutes of instruction (“Start doing it, it will feel odd, but it works, it’s easy to do, you’ll get used to it”). 

Or, pick the 10 lowest-performing schools in each state and implement this in 5 of them.  Compare the 10 schools in two years.  Bet you’ll net impressive results in those 5 out of 10!

More on Asian Number Names

Another interesting reference on English vs. Asian Place Value Concepts and Number Words

Touch Math vs. touch math

Note the capitalization: In this post, lowercase “touch math” means the generic touching of digits. It is irksome that TouchMath was permitted to copyright a phrase that can apply equally to non-commercial uses, and to uses other than touching pencil to paper.

The two words “touch math” could as easily mean the same as “hands-on Math”, such as the touching of beads or any items used to help in counting.

More on Touch Math

The commercial “Touch Math” program’s addition demonstration in 50 seconds (the program also supports other operations):

TouchMath can be effective, but it would have caused problems for me and my particular flavor of Aspie-ness, and I bet the same factors could bother other kids, too:

A) “Double touch points“.

As shown in the video, some touch points/dots count as 1, but others as 2. Remember that each spot will be an imagined tiny speck on the child’s own hand-drawn digits when actually used.)

I was a Math-phobic Aspie child. Different-valued dots would have given me the mental screaming-meemies.

B) Random positions of touch points.

The digits 7 and 9 in particular look like a confused scattering of dotted nonsense.

My particular flavor of Aspergers still freaks when confronted with this type of disorganization.

We're Just Going to Put a Touch Point Here...and Here...and HERE!!

C) Touch points on top of digits, rather than adjacent.

This is off-putting for me as an adult; when a child, I believe it would have made it difficult for me to use the touch points with my handwritten digits.

The Dot Math’s Mr. Prince claims that he has research demonstrating that for some students this interferes with transference of skills to regular non-dotted digits. That is why his system, which originally had dots atop digits, was revised to have them adjacent. I would love to see research on this issue.

An ideological objection:

No generic phrase should be cornered by a commercial product. One can no longer perform a google search for anything to do with the generic concept–I had to plod through 29 pages of results before landing on one reference to non-copyrighted material: a lone research paper I found on Eric (and even that one may refer to the Big Touch).

Further, the two words “touch math” can easily be applied to any mathematical manipulation of real or virtual three-dimensional objects (e.g. counters, graph paper, a balance…).  How about if I copyright the phrase “Edit Post”, or “Code HTML”? How about this one?:

Bite. Me.

Okay, the post is finally finished. You’d better go stick that tea in the microwave. Careful this time…


The Groupon Guide to: Being Autistic

This is an edited-down  excerpt of an old Groupon guide which they originally titled The Groupon Guide to Being Yourself, but they clearly intended this title, instead.  I’ve corrected it for them, because that is what we Asperger’s folk do—jump to give advice and help to you non-Aspies even before you think to ask us.  Sometimes even if you tell us you don’t want our help.

You’re welcome!

Anyone Else Notice This Adds Up to ALL the Major Brain Structures?


The Groupon Guide to:  Being Autistic

  • Begin each conversation by rattling off your childhood medical history. If weather permits, reveal all relevant scars.
  • If all of your friends are jumping off a bridge—jump too!  They clearly know something about this bridge that you don’t.
  • If you meet someone who shares your first name, suggest that they instead go by their middle name.
  • Reject all constructive criticism. Though teachers, employers, and traffic-court judges may cite areas for improvement, they’re outranked by (the late) Mr. Rogers, who said you’re perfect the way you are.

Here's To You!


Fitting In

I noticed it suddenly one day.  Everyone else was walking differently than I did.  Everybody else was swinging their arms around like windmills when they walked. 

Animated Windmill Gif

What You All Looked Like to Me

Why were they doing that?  That was certainly strange.  They looked like floppy toy soldiers.


Not Quite As Floppy As This

When I walked, my well-behaved arms stayed quietly at my sides, like they ought to.  I didn’t want to swing my arms around like a lunatic, but I knew it was important to walk like everybody else.  So, that afternoon, I practiced. 

I walked up and down the sidewalk, taking slow, long strides, swinging my arms in time with my strides, until it felt less and less awkward and I felt I could walk like that all the time.  I began to head for home using my newly-acquired technique.  On the way, I happened to spot an older girl walking across the street.  As I compared her gait to my own, somehow it penetrated that what I was doing didn’t match.

Oh, no!  I had gotten it all wrong.  When I’d stepped forward with my right leg, I had swung my right arm forward—right with right, left with left, that had made sense to me!  Now I realized that I had to reverse all the learning I had done—right foot with left arm, left foot with right arm. 

It seemed extremely complicated.  It took me several tries to get through the new sequence.  Once I had it, though, did feel easier than my old way, even if still awkward.  And, of course, entirely unnecessary.   Why did people swing their arms, anyway?


Tell Me It Doesn't Look Ridiculous

After another longer practice session, I was again ready to head for home.  Off I went, proud that I had taught myself to fit in, careful not to make a mistake, swinging my arms precisely. 

Each time exactly as high towards the back as towards the front.  I must have made quite a sight.  Almost as funny a sight as I had made when I walked around the previous years with my arms resting immobile by my sides.

Fellow Aspergians Practice Their Own Smooth Moves


Nonetheless, I’m proud now of that little girl for her perception, adaptability, and perseverance. 

Way to go, little B. !

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