Colorful Counting

My five year old son doesn’t yet know how to read but he does know Algebra. He doesn’t know that he knows Algebra, but he’s got some of the basic concepts down instinctively.

While riding in the car the other day (seriously, I think our best conversations are in the car), Hal announced to me that red plus red equals yellow.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Well, red is one and yellow is two.”

“Ok. If red is one and yellow is two, then yes, red plus red equals yellow. Although if you were talking about mixing colors, that would not be true.”

“I know. I’m using red to mean one and yellow to mean two. So do you know what yellow plus yellow is?”



“And what is black?”

“Black is four. Do you know what four plus four is?”

“What is it?”

“It’s um… um… hang on, I’m trying to think of another color. It’s… um… blue! Yes, four plus four is blue.”

“And what is blue?”


“Very good.”

“And eight plus eight is… white.”

“These numbers are getting big,” my husband whispered to me. I nodded before asking Hal what white was.


“Not quite. It’s sixteen. I think you might have reached your limit on big numbers in your head. You’ve done a great job though.”

“A plus A is B.”

I looked at my husband and smiled.

“And B plus B is C.”

“Actually, B plus B would be D, wouldn’t it?” This comes from my puzzling days where each letter in the alphabet has its numerical equivalent. From an algebraic perspective, he can be right until he gives two rules that contradict each other.

“Well, C plus C is E. And do you know what Z plus Z is?”

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s ‘Now I know your ABCs.'”

Nice, kid.


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