# ChisenbopJanuary 3, 2010 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Chisenbop - a tool for doing simple math on your fingers, invented by Sung Jin Pai in the '40s, it uses the same principles as the abacus. Tutorial 1 and 2, and a cute kid.
posted by serazin (34 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

Your ab-fu is no match for my flying crane style!

I'm sorry.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:06 PM on January 3, 2010

Wow. I SWORE up and down that there was this finger math system called chisenbop when I was really small (early 70s) and every single person I've mentioned this to has thought I was crazy. I feel so much better now.
posted by hollygoheavy at 3:20 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I remember being taught this in Grade 5, in the late 70's. I'd never heard of it before or since. Wasn't it a Hanson song at one point?
posted by Crane Shot at 3:24 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

That kids counts better than me. so cute.
posted by dabitch at 3:30 PM on January 3, 2010

Learned this as a kid. I never used it too much but I still use my thumb (on either hand) to note 5.

The Sumerians used a similar idea for their sexagesimal system where you count the 12 phalanxes of the fingers with one hand, marking your count with your thumb. The other hand would track the dozens with each finger, so a closed fist would equal 60.
posted by effwerd at 3:33 PM on January 3, 2010

I was taught this in elementary school, and I still use it almost every day. If you use it a bit, it becomes fast and second nature. I mean, you can go to 99 on your fingers alone (higher if you want to use your elbows or something as hundreds placeholders), so a lot of basic addition and subtraction that is too complicated to do in your head but too basic to be worth a calculator is, well, right at your fingertips. (In class they made us learn how to multiplication and division, too, but I don't remember what the tricks are to do those, so I'm limited to +/- only.)

Honestly, if I didn't already know it, I don't know if it would be worth trying to learn as an adult. But I think it might be the one worthwhile thing I learned in elementary school that still has value all these decades later.

I've never, ever met anyone who had even heard of it -- all I can figure is that I must of had a temporary teacher who was just out of teaching school where they were indoctrinated with all that late-'70s progressive stuff, and my learning chisenbop was the legacy of that.
posted by Forktine at 3:36 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fred MacMurray used to do an informercial for this, but I could've sworn it was called "chismbop" or something like that.
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:37 PM on January 3, 2010

> I remember being taught this in Grade 5, in the late 70's. I'd never heard of it before or since. Wasn't it a Hanson song at one point?

I'm a zillion percent certain I first learned about it on PBS show in the 70s. And I want to guess it was on Zoom, but either I'm totally wrong, or the episode has disappeared, or my google fu is weak.
posted by ardgedee at 3:43 PM on January 3, 2010

It was on Zoom and/or in some kids' magazine I got (one of which, I swear I swear, was called Playmate and had Tintin comics serialised in it). I read about it back then and have tried to find information about it since then, but have failed. And everyone thinks I'm a looney. But that's ok! Thanks for posting this!
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 3:49 PM on January 3, 2010

And googling up a quick abacus tutorial, I can see the direct connection between chisenbop (or however it is spelled -- I also remember it having an "m" in it) and an abacus. Chisenbop is good for small calculations, but for bigger numbers or decimals (or, for that matter, multiplication and division) an abacus looks to be much better.
posted by Forktine at 3:50 PM on January 3, 2010

I don't need this. I have an app on my iPod Touch that counts for me. Thanks anyway.
posted by Splunge at 4:06 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

They taught me this in my elementary school. I was a big nerd about it, very proud of my ability. I could even add numbers! Then the other kids beat me up. I still use it.

Looking at the photos I apparently do it backwards. Pinky is 1.
posted by Nelson at 4:08 PM on January 3, 2010

I learned this as a kid in the 70s, I don't know how. Not in school, I don't think. Maybe TV. Maybe a book.

I only learned how to count and represent numbers, not do math. But it is damned useful to be able to use your fingers to count to 99 instead of 10, and I still use it 30+ years later.

One of the lost glories of the 70s that has been suppressed along with that decade's many horrors.
posted by edheil at 4:52 PM on January 3, 2010

I remember seeing this demonstrated on Donahue or something one day in the 70s when I was home sick from school.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:52 PM on January 3, 2010

They taught me this in my elementary school. I was a big nerd about it, very proud of my ability. I could even add numbers! Then the other kids beat me up. I still use it.

Given the right finger configuration and poking motion, the ever-versatile Chisenbop could be used as a self-defence method, as well.
posted by Crane Shot at 5:01 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

There was an infomercial about this in the 70's; I remember it very clearly. No idea what network it would have been on, because we got a lot of channels due to favorable geography. I probably saw it roughly a million times during serialized reruns of Gilligan's Island while eating breakfast before catching the school bus.
posted by Michael Roberts at 5:28 PM on January 3, 2010

WOW! This brings back memories. I learned it in elementary school, too. And I remember the national exposure on TV that it got.
posted by johnj at 5:42 PM on January 3, 2010

Counting in ASL is one handed up to [well, I don't know how to do more than 999, but I assume it's still one handed after that]. It's also really fast, and clear.
Learning that counting system has made me angry when people signal '3' without using their thumbs, though.
posted by Acari at 5:45 PM on January 3, 2010

Bah, humbug.

With my ten digits, I can count to 1111111111.
posted by flabdablet at 6:11 PM on January 3, 2010

I find it disturbing that they used the same photo of a hand for every number and photoshopped out the fingers they didn't need. Not sure why.
posted by Huck500 at 6:24 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is getting all of my fellow "I was a kid in the 1970s" peeps out! That infomercial was insane. "Chisenbop" was a reliable punchline for jokes all through middle school.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:51 PM on January 3, 2010

My dad taught us this as kids. I still use it, although I can't remember how to multiply or divide using it; it's helpful for counting a couple of numbers that I can't keep in my head for very long.
posted by davejay at 7:54 PM on January 3, 2010

Looking at the photos I apparently do it backwards. Pinky is 1.

Oh shit, me too. I shall now consider starting on the index finger to be dvorak chisenbop.
posted by davejay at 7:56 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another 70s kid checking in here - I had a Chisembop book that I learned from. It was a beautiful shade of robin's egg blue and had drawings of hands on the front, and then in the back it had a tear-out flimsy record. Remember those tear-out flimsy records that used to come in the backs of books? They'd always end up getting creased up, but you could usually get a few good plays out of them.

Anyway, I still use this method all the time and I should teach it to my kids.
posted by Addlepated at 8:36 PM on January 3, 2010

Interesting, but I can't see how it's practical. Seems like all the math you do with it isn't too hard to do in your head?
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 12:12 AM on January 4, 2010

Interesting, but I can't see how it's practical. Seems like all the math you do with it isn't too hard to do in your head?

Well, there are some good arguments that using physical stuff to give children a sense of number theory helps them make the leap to the more abstract step of doing it in their head later.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:41 AM on January 4, 2010

Yeah, I think the next great piece of technology to come, the great challenge of all thinkers alive today, that will probably define the century it is invented, is a way to multiply and divide on one's fingers.
posted by fuq at 7:55 AM on January 4, 2010

Okay, I've severed my fingers. Now how do I reattach them?

"I find it disturbing that they used the same photo of a hand for every number and photoshopped out the fingers they didn't need. Not sure why."

Dammit dammit DAMMIT! I knew I should have stuck to counting in binary. "1,023 is way better than 99!" I told myself. But no, I just had to try it out.
posted by Eideteker at 9:25 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've heard from various people (including in this thread) that it's possible to multiply and divide with Chisenbop. Anyone know how?
posted by serazin at 9:33 AM on January 4, 2010

Here is a how-to on multiplication that seems like what they taught us back in the day.
posted by Forktine at 11:08 AM on January 4, 2010

Seems like all the math you do with it isn't too hard to do in your head?

Forget the math, then, and think of it like a clipboard that can hold one number, when you don't have a pen handy.
posted by davejay at 5:32 PM on January 4, 2010

This was all over tv in the mid-70s. Mike Douglas, every chatty news fill-in, Zoom, UHF channel infomercials, etc. I picked it up from tv as it was really easy. Until the past few years nobody seemed to remember it. Now I can point to MeFi.
posted by vanderwal at 5:33 PM on January 4, 2010

Yeah...we learned it in our Gifted and Talented program too. Whenever I'm keeping track of counting things on my fingers, I still use it.
posted by aquafortis at 10:22 PM on January 4, 2010

It is worth noting that The Tick claims to know chisenbop.
posted by Caviar at 10:23 PM on January 4, 2010

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