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Authors: David Lubar

Numbed!

BOOK: Numbed!
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Logan was sure that following Benedict into the math museum's restricted lab was a bad idea. After they're zapped by a robot that's being developed, the boys notice something funny. They're not sure what time it will be in two hours. They can't measure ingredients for pancakes. They can't count money. They can't do math at all!

Logan and Benedict need their skills back for a big math test in school— and, as they discover, for lots of everyday tasks! To recover, they'll have to solve several zany puzzles back at the museum. Can they prove their smarts in time? Or will they remain numbed?

MILLBROOK PRESS • MINNEAPOLIS

Text copyright © 2013 by David Lubar

Cover illustration by Jeffrey Ebbeler

Cover illustration copyright © 2013 by Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.

Illustration page 111 copyright © Laura Westlund/Independent Picture Service.

All rights reserved. International copyright secured. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., except for the inclusion of brief quotations in an acknowledged review.

Millbrook Press

A division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.

241 First Avenue North

Minneapolis, MN 55401 U.S.A

Website address:
www.lernerbooks.com

Main body text set in Goudy Oldstyle Std. Regular 14/24.

Typeface provided by Adobe Systems.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lubar, David.

Numbed! / by David Lubar.

pages    cm

Summary: When a robot at the math museum zaps their math skills, sixth-grader Logan and his mischievous friend, Benedict, must pass a series of math challenges to retrieve their knowledge.

ISBN 978–1–4677–0594–3 (trade hard cover : alk. paper)

ISBN 978–1–4677–1699–4 (eBook)

[1. Mathematics—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.L96775Nu 2013

[Fic]—dc23

2012048863

Manufactured in the United States of America

1 – SB – 7/15/13

eISBN: 978-1-4677-1699-4 (pdf)

eISBN: 978-1-4677-3364-9 (ePub)

eISBN: 978-1-4677-3363-2 (mobi)

For Guy, Robin, Erin, Ryan, and Kevin Connelly, for a number of reasons

CHAPTER
5 + 4 − 8


I
wish we could go somewhere interesting,” Benedict said as we got off the bus with the rest of our class.

“It won't be that bad,” I said.

“Are you kidding, Logan? It's math! It's bad enough we have to do fifty zillion homework problems every day. And now, we get dragged here?” He flung his arm in the direction of the Mobius Mathematics Museum. It was shaped like the top half of a planet, with a giant, twisted steel ring circling a dome of colored glass. The ring was just high enough above the ground that people could walk under it and thick enough that I could probably walk inside of it, assuming it was hollow. The dome had craters and spikes scattered across the surface. Huge numbers, symbols, and equations were painted on it in random places in pink, yellow, red, and purple.

“It's kind of a cool building,” I said, trying to get Benedict to calm down before our teacher, Ms. Fractalli, decided to make him stay on the bus. It was only our second month of sixth grade, and she'd already kept him after school twelve times. That's not even counting all the times he had to miss recess.

“No,” Benedict said. “The natural history museum is cool. They have all sorts of dead things. I guarantee, this is going to be awful.” He jammed his Ravens hat tighter on his head. He always wore it for at least a week after his mom cut his hair.

Ms. Fractalli turned around and said, “Benedict, I expect you to behave. And take off that hat before we go inside.” Then she pointed at me and flicked her finger toward herself, like she was tickling the belly of a tall dog. “Logan, come here.”

I tapped my chest. “Me?”

She double flicked. “You.”

“Hah—you're in trouble,” Benedict said as he stuffed his hat in his back pocket.

I ignored him and walked over to our teacher.

She bent down, lowered her voice, and said, “I'm counting on you to see that Benedict behaves.”

“Me?” This time, I didn't tap any part of my body.

“You.” This time, she didn't flick any fingers.

“But I can't make him behave,” I said. She might as well have asked me to make the wind stop blowing.

“Sure, you can. You're his friend. He listens to you. As I said, I'm counting on you. I know you won't let me down.” She turned away before I could figure out how to convince her that whatever Benedict ended up doing, it wouldn't be my fault.

“I'll try to keep you out of trouble,” Benedict said when I got back over to him. “But you're going to have to stick close.”

“Thanks. I'll do my best.”

Our class streamed beneath the ring and through the front entrance of the museum. There was a big digital counter hanging from the ceiling just past the door. It was the same kind they use at the deli in the supermarket—but with a lot more digits. The numbers clicked forward, going up by two as Benedict and I went in.

“I count!” Benedict said, pointing up at the display.

He ran outside, slid to a halt, and let out a screech like a skidding car in a video game. He spun around and raced back. “And I count again,” he said.

He did this twice more, bumping the count higher each time, before I could grab his shoulder and say, “Come on, the class is getting ahead of us.”

We caught up with the end of the line as it reached the other side of the lobby. I noticed a video running on a big screen overhead. A man held up a strip of paper. “The Mobius strip is easy to make but amazing to explore,” he said. He gave the paper a twist and then taped the ends together, making a loop.

He took a pencil and started to draw a line on the outside. “It only has one side,” he said.

Our group moved out of the lobby, so I didn't see the rest of the video. Ms. Fractalli led us down a hallway toward an area called the Chamber of Fractions.

Just then, Benedict grabbed my arm and shouted, “Look!”

With his other hand, he pointed at a sign hanging from the middle of a thick rope that blocked an opening on the left side of the hallway. I could see a flight of stairs past the opening, heading down to the basement. The sign read:

RESTRICTED EXPERIMENTAL AREA
CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC
ABSOLUTELY NO VISITORS ALLOWED

“Awesome!” Benedict said. “They wouldn't put up a sign if it was really a secret. They want people to go there.”

“That's ridiculous.” I grabbed Benedict's shoulder. “If they wanted people to go down there, they'd say so on the sign.”

“Then everyone would go,” he said. “They want people, but only the ones who are smart enough to figure that out. Like us. Let's go.”

Before I could say anything, he'd slipped from my grip, ducked under the rope, and raced down the stairs. I found myself alone, listening to the fading squeak of his sneakers on the tile floor and imagining what Ms. Fractalli would do to both of us when Benedict got in trouble down there.

If I didn't chase after him, I'd get blamed. But the last time I'd chased him anywhere, I ended up getting punished. That had not been fun.

“I hope this time is different,” I muttered to myself.

I had no idea I was about to get my wish. This time would definitely be different—mostly because it would be a whole lot worse.

CHAPTER
1 + 1

I
checked over my shoulder to make sure Ms. Fractalli wasn't watching. Then I slipped under the rope and hurried down the steps. They led me to a long hallway with doors on both sides. I found Benedict in the third room on the left. He wasn't alone.

A small man wearing a lab coat was hunched over a workbench. His frizzy hair was just ­starting to turn gray at the sides, but his mustache was still dark black. My jaw dropped as I stared across the workbench. It wasn't the man who surprised me. It was the robot. “Awesome!” I said. I love electronics.

“Yeah, awesome,” Benedict said.

The robot had all kinds of flashing lights on it, like an old-fashioned pinball machine. It had a pair of video camera lenses for eyes and small microphones for ears. It had jointed arms that ended in three-pronged claws like those machines at the amusement park where you try to win a toy. The robot didn't have any legs or wheels. I guess it wasn't supposed to walk or roll anywhere. Or maybe it wasn't finished. The man had a whole table full of parts in front of him.

“I agree. It's definitely awesome,” he said. “Or it will be, once I work out a couple of glitches.” He smiled at us. I relaxed a bit when I realized he didn't seem to mind that we were there.

“What is it?” Benedict asked.

“A new interactive exhibit—Cypher, the Number Cruncher. We're developing a whole section of new math experiences.” The man held out his hand. “I'm Dr. Thagoras. I just started working here last month.”

“Cypher must know a zillion numbers,” I said.

Dr. Thagoras laughed. “Actually, he only knows two numbers. Make that two digits. But that's all he needs.”

“No way,” Benedict said. “Even Logan's dog knows more than that.”

“Cypher's memory is nothing but switches.” Dr. Thagoras reached over to the wall and flicked the lights off and then back on. “Off and on—that's all he has. Or 1 and 0. If
on
means “1” and
off
means “0,” you have every number you need, as long as you have enough switches.”

“No, you don't,” Benedict said. “You don't have the number fifteen. Or ten thousand.”

Dr. Thagoras grabbed a piece of paper and a pen. “Let's back away from switches and start with the simplest system of all.” He made a bunch of short slashes on the page.

///////////////

“There you have fifteen,” he said. “I'd need more paper and a lot more time to write down ten thousand this way.”

“That's not fifteen,” Benedict said. “That's just silly.”

“No, that's just unary—counting by ones,” Dr. Thagoras said. “It's not very useful, except for counting small quantities of things. But Cypher uses binary. So do computers and video games. It's much more useful—especially if you have billions of switches. Wait—I have a device that will make everything a lot clearer. It's for one of the new exhibits. I'll go get it.”

He hit a switch on the front of the robot. The lights on its body went dark, and the head slumped forward. Dr. Thagoras hopped off his stool and headed out the door. “I'll be right back. Don't touch anything.”

No!
I spun toward Benedict, but it was too late. Those words—
don't touch anything
—had already set him into action.

“I think
on
is more fun than
off
. Who wants to be a zero when you can be
numero uno
?” He flipped a switch on the robot's chest. The lights flashed to life, and the head tilted back up.

“He told us not to touch it,” I said.

“Nah, he told you. Not me. I'm really good with electronics.” Benedict stabbed at several more buttons. “I wonder what else it can do.”

I tried to distract him before he broke something. “Hey—you were wrong. This place isn't boring.”

“Most of it is still boring. Come on—a Chamber of Fractions? Give me a break.” He grabbed a knob on the robot's neck and twisted it. “I hate math.”

The robot turned its head toward us. “I love numbers.” Its voice reminded me of the GPS Mom and Dad use in the car. Dad talks back to it—especially when he thinks it gave him the wrong directions. But when he ignores the GPS and drives the way he thinks is right, we always get lost.

The robot kept talking. “Numbers are wonderful. I am numbers. Numbers are my world. I live in a digital domain. I am a binary being. One, two, four, eight, sixteen.”

“It loves
words
way too much,” Benedict muttered to me. Then he turned toward the robot and said, “You can't love numbers. And you sure can't love math.” He jabbed it in the chest, hitting another button.

“I love numbers. I love numbers. I love numbers.” The robot repeated the words faster and faster. It started to sound like “Olive numbers” and then “lumbers,” and after that, it didn't sound much like any words at all. It sounded like a car trying to start on a very cold morning. Smoke drifted from the robot's ears. It smelled like the time I'd left my plastic ruler too close to the toaster.

“Oh dear!” Dr. Thagoras rushed back in and switched off the robot. “You seemed to have found a flaw in its programming. I think I'd better grab the fire extinguisher. Hold this. And don't touch anything.” He shoved a small box with three on-off switches and three lights into my hands and raced back out.

“Don't leave!” I shouted. “And stop saying that!”

As soon as Dr. Thagoras vanished down the hall, Benedict smirked and said, “I've got a few more things to tell this robot.” He reached for the button.

“No!”

I tried to grab his arm, but I wasn't fast enough.

“Numbers are stupid!” Benedict shouted at the robot. “Even robots are boring when all they talk about is numbers.”

I expected another rapid stream of words from the robot or maybe a screech like Dad's desktop computer at work made when the fan broke. Instead, the robot spoke in a low voice. It was almost a whisper. And it was so calm and cold, it made me shiver.

“You are wrong about numbers. You must be numbed.”

It raised an arm. I heard a hum. A bolt of energy shot out from the center of its claw and hit Benedict in the middle of his forehead. Benedict started to twitch. I heard another hum. The robot was getting ready to zap him again.

“Look out!” I leaped at him and gave him a shove, pushing him away from the zapping energy—and putting myself right in line to get hit.

Something exploded against the side of my head. I got so dizzy that I dropped to the floor. I had the weirdest feeling, like air was rushing out of my head. Everything grew dark, except for little bits of light that swirled like fireflies as they flew away from me. When one shot past my eyes, I saw it was a tiny, glowing number. It was as if someone had made shiny confetti out of a shredded math test. They were all numbers and symbols, escaping from my head and passing right through the walls and ceiling.

As the last glowing number left the room, the darkness took over and I passed out.

BOOK: Numbed!
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