THE MATH USED FOR MARCH MADNESS BETTING POOL FORMS: Combinatorics is a branch of mathematics concerned with counting individual objects, particularly units of a finite set, like a collection of marbles stored in a small pouch. Once primarily a mathematical curiosity, it is vital to many areas of modern technology. For example, it is a useful tool in determining probabilities and the number of structures possessing certain properties as applied to telephone (fiber optic) networks and computers. It can also be used to analyze industrial process schedules, electrical networks, and economics.
A SHORT COURSE IN SHOPPING MATHEMATICS: People respond positively to very big numbers, so an internet provider might run a promotion offering 1025 hours of free Internet access. The small print reveals the offer is only good for 45 days. There are 1080 hours in 45 days, so customers would have to use their Internet access nearly 24/7 in order to take full advantage of the offer. Similarly, a food label that says a product is "90% fat free" will be more appealing than one that says it has "10% fat." People also lend more credence to exact numbers, preferring "50%" to the less specific "half." But it's easy to confuse precision with accuracy, such as with food packaging. Compare a soft drink that has 39 grams of sugar and 140 calories per serving to a fruit drink with 31 grams of sugar and 120 calories. But the serving size of the soft drink is 12 ounces, while the fruit drink is only 8 ounces. So ounce for ounce, the soft drink has fewer calories and less sugar than the fruit drink.