Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by jadon. jadon Wonders, “Is a brain faster than a calculator” Thanks for WONDERing with us, jadon!

Let’s start this Wonder of the Day with some math practice. Ready? Okay, what’s 2 ✕ 2? If you said four, you’re right! How about 10 ✕ 10? Yes, 100! Now for a harder one: What is 7,686,369,774,870 ✕ 2,465,099,745,779?

You may have pulled out a pencil and paper—or a calculator—for that one. But believe it or not, one woman found the right answer (18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730) in 1980 without the use of either. Even more impressive, she did so in just 28 seconds! 

Which mathematician achieved this? Her name was Shakuntala Devi, and she was the first recorded Indian woman to become a mathematician. However, her talents didn’t stop with math. Devi was also a talented writer and wrote several books.

Shakuntala Devi was born on November 4, 1929, in Bangalore, India. Her father worked for a circus as a magician, lion tamer, and trapeze artist. As a child, Devi traveled with the circus as her father performed.

When Devi was three, her father discovered she had a special talent. When they played cards together, she always won. Devi did so by memorizing all of the cards and the order in which they were dealt. This was an exceptional ability to display at such a young age.

That’s why many people called Devi a child prodigy. Unfortunately, Devi had to leave school at the age of six. Still, she continued to study math concepts on her own. She soon began to earn money by demonstrating her talents at various colleges and universities. 

Devi showed a strong understanding of multiplication. She was able to find the product of numbers that were 13 digits long! She could also find the cube roots of large numbers in mere seconds. Devi once even found the 7th root of a 27-digit number in just 40 seconds.

Devi had another unique skill related to her understanding of numbers. She could identify the day of the week on which any date in history fell. Even more impressive, she could do so within one second of hearing the date. This and her other talents were verified in 1988 by a test at the University of California, Berkeley.

How was Devi so good at math? Historians believe she taught herself by reading books about mathematical concepts. And, of course, she practiced. Her career as a performer meant that Devi was constantly exercising her brain and getting better with numbers.

Shakuntala Devi was a lifelong learner, and she was interested in many subjects. In addition to math, Devi wrote books about cooking and astrology. She was also an ally to LGBTQIA+ folks. She was the first person in India to write a book about same-gender relationships.

On April 21, 2013, Devi died from cardiac and respiratory issues. Today, she’s still remembered for her amazing talents. In fact, she still holds the Guiness World record for the fastest human computation. A movie about her life was released in 2020.

Are you a math whiz like Shakuntala Devi? Or do your interests lie elsewhere? Whatever your special talent, take some time to practice what you’ve learned today!


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If you’re coming to Wonderopolis tomorrow, be sure to bring your sombrero and dancing shoes!