# Math Engines: For Multiplying Mixed Fractions, It’s Wolfram Alpha Over Google & Bing

## Ah, math. It’s why I became an English major. But now math is spinning back around and haunting me in the form of my fifth grader. Last night, I found myself dealing with how to multiply fractions as part of helping with his homework assignment. Um, yeah, I think I remember how. But to be […]

Ah, math. It’s why I became an English major. But now math is spinning back around and haunting me in the form of my fifth grader. Last night, I found myself dealing with how to multiply fractions as part of helping with his homework assignment. Um, yeah, I think I remember how. But to be certain, could search engines help as a double-check? Enter the awesomeness of Wolfram Alpha.

Doing math through a search engine isn’t new. One of Google’s earliest parlor tricks was allowing people to enter math problems into its search box and get answers. Indeed, I use it for this more than my pocket calculator, these days.

Want to know 345,567 / 23? Enter that into Google, and you get back the answer: 15,024.6522:

Fancy! But how about dealing with lowly fractions? Last night, I was dealing with problems like these:

56 2/3 * 3 1/2

I thought I was explaining how to do them right, as we worked through the homework exercises. But was there a quick way to double check? Well, I tried Google and got back:

For those who can’t see the screenshot above, that was:

(56 2/3) * (3 1/2) = 198.333333

That’s correct in decimal form, but the exercise required the product to be expressed as mixed fractions.  You know, a whole number followed by any fractional amount. C’mon, we all remember that.

I know that Bing also does math, so I tried things over there. I got back:

Again, for the screenshot-challenged, Bing processed my calculation like this:

56*2/3*3*1/2 = 56

Instead of doing fractions, Bing made some odd assumptions that I just wanted to multiple or divide the numbers that were next to each other. So, I tried it another way:

(56 2/3) * (3 1/2)

That just gave me a bigger mess:

And the text version:

(562/3)*(31/2) = 2,903.666667

This time, the space between the whole number and the start of the fraction was removed, completely changing what I entered.

NOTE: From a comment below, entering the calculation as (56 + (2/3)) * (3 + (1/2)) would have worked at Bing!

For those who want to read more about Bing’s calculator, see the Bing help page here. It can do a lot of functions even if it didn’t get mixed fractions multiplication right.

By the way, Bing does do fractions better than Google — that is, if you want a simple fraction expressed. Consider this:

300/35

On Google, that’s expressed as a decimal form only. But on Bing, you get both decimal and fractional forms:

As for the homework assignment, I gave search engines one more shot to help, this time using one that was built by a mathematician, Wolfram Alpha. How’d that go? For the example above, I got back this:

Awesome — multiple forms of the same answer. A decimal form. A fractional form. And what I wanted, the mixed faction answer:

198 1/3

I’m not sure if Stephen Wolfram’s grand ambition with Wolfram Alpha was for it to help me and my son figure out the multiplication of fractions. But it was sure useful!

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