2019 Mathematics Game: Playful Math for All Ages

Happy 2019! Have you set any goals for the year?

My goals are to continue playing with math (1) in my homeschool coop classes and (2) on this blog — and (3) hopefully to publish a couple of new books as well.

My favorite way to celebrate any new year is by playing the Year Game. It’s a prime opportunity for players of all ages to fulfill the two most popular New Year’s Resolutions: spending more time with family and friends, and getting more exercise.

So grab a partner, slip into your workout clothes, and pump up those mental muscles!

Rules of the Game

Use the digits in the year 2019 to write mathematical expressions for the counting numbers 1 through 100. The goal is adjustable: Young children can start with looking for 1-10, middle grades with 1-25.

  • You must use all four digits. You may not use any other numbers.
  • Solutions that keep the year digits in 2-0-1-9 order are preferred, but not required.
  • You may use a decimal point to create numbers such as .2, .02, etc., but you cannot write 0.02 because we only have one zero in this year’s number.
  • You may create multi-digit numbers such as 10 or 201 or .01, but we prefer solutions that avoid them.

My Special Variations on the Rules

  • You MAY use the overhead-bar (vinculum), dots, or brackets to mark a repeating decimal. But students and teachers beware: you can’t submit answers with repeating decimals to Math Forum.
  • You may NOT use a double factorial, n!! = the product of all integers from 1 to n that have the same parity (odd or even) as n. The Math Forum allows them, but I feel much more creative when I can wrangle a solution without invoking them.

For many years mathematicians, scientists, engineers and others interested in mathematics have played “year games” via e-mail and in newsgroups. We don’t always know whether it is possible to write expressions for all the numbers from 1 to 100 using only the digits in the current year, but it is fun to try to see how many you can find.

Math Forum Year Game Site

How To Play

As usual, we will need plenty of arithmetic tricks to create variety in our numbers. Experiment with decimals, two-digit numbers, and factorials. Remember that dividing (or using a negative exponent) creates the reciprocal of a fraction, which can flip the denominator up where it might be more helpful.

  • Use the comments section below to share the numbers you find.
  • But please don’t spoil the game by telling us how you made them!

You may give relatively cryptic hints, especially for the more difficult numbers, but be careful. Many teachers use this puzzle as a classroom or extra-credit assignment, and there will always be students looking for people to do their homework for them.

  • Do not post your solutions. I will delete them.

We’ve had some lively discussions in past years. I’m looking forward to this year’s fun!

Keeping Score

As players report their game results below, I will keep a running tally of confirmed results (numbers reported found by two or more players).

Percent confirmed: 86%
Reported but not confirmed: 52, 56, 58, 66, 67, 68, 73, 74, 76, 78, 86, 97, 98.
Numbers we are still missing: 77.

My family will be traveling to see extended family and then welcoming our expat daughter for a visit home. (Hooray!) So this tally will almost certainly lag behind the results posted in the comments.

There is no authoritative answer key for the year game, so we will rely on our collective wisdom to decide when we’re done.

Students in 1st-12th grade may wish to submit their answers to the Math Forum, which will begin publishing student solutions after February 1, 2018. Remember, Math Forum allows double factorials but will not accept answers with repeating decimals.

Clarifying the Do’s and Don’ts

Finally, here are a few rules that players have found confusing in past years.

These things ARE allowed:

  • You must use each of the digits 2, 0, 1, 9 exactly once in each expression.
  • Unary negatives count. That is, you may use a “−” sign to create a negative number.
  • You may use (n!)!, a nested factorial, which is a factorial of a factorial. Nested square roots are also allowed.

These things are NOT allowed:

  • You may not write a computer program to do the puzzle for you — or at least, if you do, PLEASE don’t ruin our fun by telling us all the answers!
  • You may not use any exponent unless you create it from the digits 2, 0, 1, 9. You may not use a square function, but you may use “^2”. You may not use a cube function, but you may use “^(2+1)”. You may not use a reciprocal function, but you may use “^(−1)”.
  • While we do allow the square root function, you must create any other roots from the digits 2, 0, 1, 9. For example, to take the cube root of a number, use the radical symbol along with (2+1) to mark it as cube root.
  • “0!” is not a digit, so it cannot be used to create a base-10 numeral. You cannot use it with a decimal point, for instance, or put it in the tens digit of a number.
  • The decimal point is not an operation that can be applied to other mathematical expressions: “.(2+1)” does not make sense.
  • You may not use the integer, floor, or ceiling functions. You have to “hit” each number from 1 to 100 exactly, without rounding off or truncating decimals.
  • And while The Math Forum allows the double factorial, you can’t use it here. It was a handy way to get bigger numbers in the years that consisted of mostly zeros, but this year it feels like a cheat.

Helpful Links

  • Mathematics Game Manipulatives
    This may help visual or hands-on thinkers. When I visited, they had a typo: still showing the “8” from last year, so you’ll have to make your own “9” tile until they get that fixed.

For more tips, check out this comment from the 2008 game. And Heiner Marxen has compiled hints and results for past years (and for the related Four 4’s puzzle).

Dave Rusin describes a related card game, Krypto, which is much like my Target Number game.

Alexander Bogomolny offers a great collection of similar puzzles on his Make An Identity page. And Pat Ballew takes a brief look at the history of such arithmetic puzzles.

Finally, Edmark M. Law — who created the 2019 calculation graphics above — offers a nice collection of math tidbits in his Happy New Year 2019! blog post.


Twenty-nineteen and 2019 goals photos by Marco Verch on Flickr. “Sparkling 2019” by NordWood Themes and “New year fireworks” by Jamie Fenn on Unsplash. 2019 calculation graphics by Edmark M. Law at Learn Fun Facts.

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4 thoughts on “2019 Mathematics Game: Playful Math for All Ages

  1. I’ll get us started. I’ve made it up to 16 with elementary arithmetic plus occasional use of factorials. Even managed to keep the numbers in order, without using double-digits. Going onward, it gets trickier…

  2. Happy 2019! I know this is a bit late, but its been a busy month.

    I’ve found almost everything; the only missing number is 77. Anyone had any luck there?

    1. Wow! You’ve been busy. I can confirm most of your numbers. I still haven’t figured out the following:
      52, 56, 58, 66-68, 73-74, 76-78, 86, or 97-98.

      But I also haven’t started to play with repeated decimals yet, so that may help bring some of the missing numbers in line.

      My daughter is home from Korea for the next couple of weeks, though, so I’ll be busy with family travel and stuff. If anyone else is playing along, please speak up and let us know your numbers!

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