Boo, Boo, Boo, Square Root of Two

Before the men met up with me in New York, to conteract all the high-testosterone activities to come, I spent a girly day with my sister – manicure, pedicure, haircut, street fair. 

And that evening I had a fabulous dinner near Grand Central with my two of my best friends from high school. (One of my dinner companions traveled in from Pound Ridge for the occasion.)  We went to Avra, a Greek seafood restaurant, where you can sit outside on a patio on a balmy night and dream about summering in Santorini, if your family ever outgrows baseball vacations.  You can also select your own fresh catch, in our case a delicious lavraki (branzino).  The New York Times gave the place a star, and called it “a blind date with a fish”.

My friends are past the neurotic prospective parent phase – Their children have already graduated from college.  They both suggested that it might be more worthwhile to agonize over job placement than college admissions.  (One has a daughter who graduated from Barnard a year ago and still doesn’t know what she wants to be…though she does have a well-written blog.)

We discussed how different “the process” had been when we were in high school – we couldn’t remember owning college guide books, writing essays for our apps or even having guidance counselors.

But we did remember our SAT Prep.  Two of us had met during an evening class in a funky office above a pizza place.  Although we had attended different high schools, we went on to become lifelong friends.  And our teacher was destined for greatness: We were tutored by the pioneer and guru of standardized test preparation, Stanley H. Kaplan.  When asked what the “H” stood for, he would say “Higher Scores”.

All I could remember about the historic course was that Stanley H. had to stop speaking whenever the subway came because the whole office rattled.  And I can recall him telling us, “If you girls would just shut up and listen, you’ll get a 1600!” 

My friend had a stronger recollection.  She said Mr. Kaplan had taught us a mnemonic to remember a trigonometry formula – “Boo Boo, Square Root of Two”.   She could not identify the formula, so she called her brother-in-law, a successful dentist with a great memory.  He too had never forgotten the phrase, but could not conjure up what it was supposed to help one remember – perhaps something related to a hypotenuse?

On to Google.  All I could find on the entire information highway was a 2001 New Yorker piece about Mr. Kaplan, which I vaguely recall reading seven years ago.  Fascinating stuff about the origins and sociology of standardized testing.

And sure enough, a “Boo, Boo, Boo” reference (It turns out there were three “boos”, which could lead you astray during an exam, if you had memorized just “Boo Boo”):

Kaplan once determined that the testmakers were fond of geometric problems involving the Pythagorean theorem. So an entire generation of Kaplan students were taught “boo, boo, boo, square root of two,” to help them remember how the Pythagorean formula applies to an isosceles right triangle.”

A nod to the past, but alas, no explanation.   Will we ever find out what exactly “Boo, boo, boo” stood for?  It might be worth an e-mail to Stanley H.


Boo, Boo, Boo, Square Root of Two — 3 Comments

  1. You’ve been holding out on us, NP. You were coached for you SATs by THE Stanley Kaplan? That explains everything. A brush with greatness… and destiny.
    Higher scores indeed: that perfect math score came straight from the womb.