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    Home school club: why did Chopin sleep with wooden wedges between his fingers?

    30 April 2020

    This week in Home school club we’ve got a fact about Chopin’s fingers – and a cool maths trick you can play with your own fingers. There’s also a mind-blowing nugget you can deploy whenever you see someone drinking a glass of water (or a cup of tea, a can of Coke or whatever). See where these facts lead your little grey cells – and, as ever, dig out some mind-blowers of your own. Happy learning!


    ‘Gadsby’ is a 1939 novel by Ernest Vincent Wright, written so that it doesn’t contain a single ‘e’. He said his biggest problem was avoiding verbs that ended ‘-ed’. Numbers were another difficulty – Wright couldn’t use any of the ones between ‘six’ and ‘thirty’. He disciplined himself by tying down the ‘e’ key on his typewriter.

    The book’s first sentence is: ‘If Youth, throughout all history, had had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn’t constantly run across folks today who claim that “a child don’t know anything”.’

    ‘E’ is the commonest letter in English – it occurs 56 times as often as ‘q’, the least-used letter.

    Why not try writing a story of your own that misses out another letter? How long can you keep it going?


    A trick to help with your nine times table: hold out both hands, palms down, your fingers and thumbs outstretched. Now bend down the digit (finger/thumb) of the digit (number) that you’re multiplying by. The number of fingers to its left will be the tens of your answer, the number of fingers to its right will be the units.

    For instance – to calculate 3 x 9, bend down finger three (the middle finger of your left hand). This leaves two fingers to its left, and seven fingers to its right – so the answer is 27.


    Benjamin Pitman, who helped his brother Isaac to develop Pitman shorthand, used the system as offical stenographer (court recorder) at the trial of those involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

    Can you learn some basics of Pitman shorthand – perhaps enough to write your own name? Can you develop a shorthand system of your own?


    Polish composer and pianist Frederick Francois Chopin (1810 - 1849)

    Polish composer and pianist Frederick Francois Chopin (1810 – 1849)

    The composer Frederic Chopin slept with wooden wedges between his fingers, to increase the span of notes he could cover on the piano.


    The earliest human footprints ever discovered outside Africa were found on a beach in Norfolk. The prints – revealed in 2013 as the waves eroded the sand at Happisburgh (then lost a fortnight later as the erosion continued) – were 800,000 years old. Archaeologists think they were left by a family group, possibly of five people, including an adult male who was 5’9”. They were walking south, and may well have been searching for seafood. The species in question (homo antecessor) probably made its way to what’s now the UK across a strip of land that back then still connected us to the rest of Europe.

    Science and Nature

    There are more atoms in a glass of water than there are glasses of water in the world. (And yes, we do mean in all the oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, etc …)