It was around 2 a.m. when Mel Corlija woke up. He had an idea. The idea of something good that people can utilize. “Mental Math” was born.
But Corlija is not a Math professor. Actually he earned a bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine technology. He did research work for the government and, when the grant for the research ended, he worked in a chemist natural resources department, he said.
“I always wanted to teach,” Corlija said. After receiving his master’s of Science degree at the University of Missouri, he attained a position at Columbia College (Columbia College blog published a story about his “Mental Math” puzzle concept). But the program was allowing him to only be an adjunct faculty member, not full-time.
Missouri Valley College was hiring at that time, and he was interviewed and obtained the position. Mel Corlija is an assistant professor of Business. He wanted to teach business because, even during his career as a chemist, at the end of the day it was business books that he was reading, he said.
Some of his students said that Mel Corlija is a great professor because he makes concrete examples of an abstract concept.
According to Corlija, it is important to distinguish between knowing something and understanding something. “The moon rotates around the earth. You know it, but you don’t understand how it works.”
The advice he likes to give to his students is to be creative entrepreneurs and have initiatives and ideas. But that got him thinking of what he could do as a model of his words.
He realized that a lot of students and also adults were missing the order of operation. For that, he used an acronym to help people remember. Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. Parentheses, Exponance, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction. Got it? This is the key to solving his “Mental Math” problem. The initial reason (for “Mental Math”) is to see if people could compute the order of the equation in their head, he said.
Once he got his idea, he decided to walk into the Columbia Daily Tribune to see if they were interested. Bingo! It has been a little bit more than two years now that his “Mental Math” problem puzzles have appeared daily. Corlija’s blog is also linked to Columbia Daily Tribune online. The math problems gets harder as the week goes by. Some people who like to be challenged greater wait for the Saturday one, he said.
With another type of puzzle called “Fix the Problem” (also published in the Columbia Daily Tribune on Tuesdays, Thirsdays and Saturdays), the next step is to syndicate it and to create a book of puzzle that gathered all of them. He has more than 600 problems.
Syndication means that every newspaper that would like to use his puzzle would have to pay him for it. It means that if 10 newspapers pay him for making one…wait, first, how much does he get paid for one again? Well, he didn’t know the going rate for his problem when he first went and talked to the Columbia Daily Tribune, and he would have done it for nothing, he said. But it pays enough to make it worth his time, he added. Fair enough.
Corlija is also puzzle-addicted. He likes logic game like Sudoku and he could do crosswords all day, he said. He laughed when I said that I wasn’t a Math-person so my favorite “logic games” were the comics! “Actually, you know, comics are clever!” he said.
The answer of the “Mental Math” puzzle published in the Delta newspaper October edition is: 1.