"What's the largest number you can represent with 3 digits? Nope. It's not 999." is the title of a LinkedIn blog post by Ed Trice of Lightning Cloud Computing. Since its publication on 16 March 2016 it has been widely shared in social media. The post claims that in 2008, Trice and his daughter disputed the official answer for a problem on a standardized, national (presumably American) math test. Had their interpretation of the problem been correct, his daughter would have scored 100% instead of only 99% on the test. Trice eventually demanded that their interpretation of the problem be officially recognized as the only correct one, and that all tests in the country be rescored accordingly. After a three-month process involving an attorney, Trice claims, this demand was met:

"…I want every exam in the country marked incorrect that has 999 as the correct answer."

It took an attorney and another 3 months, but I got the result. My daughter scored the only 100 on the exam that year for her grade, not just in her class, but in the country.

I didn't care what it cost. I didn't care how much effort it took. I didn't care that an entire federal department was given tens of thousands of hours of work in addition to the demands placed on it.

Putting aside the question of whether Trice's interpretation of the problem is the only correct one (or even one of several possible correct ones), is there any evidence corroborating his claims that he forced a national educational standards body to retroactively rescore a standardized test for all students who had taken it, and that his daughter was thereafter the only one who received a score of 100%? If so, which test was this, and how many students nationwide had to have their tests rescored?

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    Not that it means anything one way or the other, but if you google the name Ed Trice you sure get a lot of hits which also include the words "scam" and "fraud" – Mark Mar 20 '16 at 18:00
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    Read throught the comments to the blog post and you will both be pointed to several factual mistakes in the text and also find the author's repeated refusal to provide any support for his story: 'I'm not interested in providing proof. It happened.' (Ed Trice) – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Mar 21 '16 at 15:53
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    I think it's worth pointing out that, if extra symbols and concepts not yet taught are allowed (in this case exponentiation), then 9^9^9 is not as big as 9!^9!^9!, which is not as big as 9![tetration symbol]9![tetration symbol]9!. In fact, there is no largest number one can represent with just 9's if arbitrary symbols are allowed — picture ((9!)!)!… – Ben Hocking Mar 21 '16 at 16:32
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    Please refrain from discussing the solution to the math problem here. It has nothing to do with my question, which is about whether Trice forced the administrators to rescore the test. – Psychonaut Mar 21 '16 at 18:35
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    @woliveirajr, one can also write tetration without extra symbols, and end up with a much bigger number. – Ben Hocking Mar 22 '16 at 0:15

The question asks for corroborative evidence for Mr. Trice's story. Given his stone-walling I would expect that the best possible answer would be strong circumstantial evidence that no such evidence exists, like Thoreau's trout-in-the-milk circumstantial evidence that the dairy farmer had been watering down his milk.

Background: The problem in the test is a puzzle that has made the rounds of the web since the early days of search engines and no doubt much earlier (beyond the reach of the wayback machine). Unraveledideas mentioned a 2002 appearance, but it can be found even earlier, in 1997 at http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/59172.html for example, and I've seen the puzzle at various other sites both before and after 2008 (the date of the test). At every such site with a comment section, there are usually many comments and of course many more who are lurkers. It can also be found in books, e.g. puzzle number 634 on p.236 of Terry Stickel's 2006 "The Big Book of Mind-bending Puzzles" (which explicitly forbids 999 as a solution).

With that background, Trice is asking us to believe the following. Judge for yourself which of these six potential inconsistencies tend to undermine his story and to what extent.

  1. The US sets K-12 math exams. Where did he get that from? Tests are set by states at most.

  2. There is a US National Board of Education. Well, it's true that there is a Finnish National Board of Education, and various State Boards of Education (California, Illinois, etc.). At the national level in the US however there's only the US Department of Education and the US National Board for Education Sciences. The latter conducts surveys on which it bases statistics about US education. But no, there is no US National Board of Education.

  3. Everyone involved in this alleged nationwide test (including Mr. Trice himself at first) allegedly believed that the point of the question was to test whether the student could identify the largest three-digit number, namely 999. Yet the question was not worded that way, but instead as in the puzzle, namely "largest number representable with three digits". What a remarkable coincidence that this awkward wording would exactly match that of the puzzle question.

  4. Even had the puzzle question never existed, none of the many people that would be involved in reviewing a nationwide test would appear to have pointed out that the question would be clearer and less ambiguous if its obviously convoluted wording were simplified to the more direct "the largest three-digit number". Had anyone done so there would be no reason not to simplify and clarify it. Examiners take great care to avoid any ambiguity in tests. It's extremely unlikely this wording would have escaped notice.

  5. Apparently not one of the hundreds of thousands of people involved in setting, taking, and grading this test had ever run across this cute puzzle. Yet it was a relatively well-known puzzle by then (see Background above). What is the probability that no one involved in the test had ever heard of this puzzle? I would expect extremely low.

  6. None of the hundreds of thousands of people allegedly affected by this seismic regrading breathed a word of this fascinating story to the press, which would have made front page news out of such an astonishingly heart-rending story. Instead the first exposure of the story to the public was eight years after the event, and moreover by the father of the one person in the whole country, allegedly, who noticed the 9^9^9 solution.

Any one of these inconsistencies in his story should constitute strong circumstantial evidence. All six of them simultaneously is simply unbelievable.

But with what motive? (Circumstantial evidence is always stronger when there's a motive, such as making more money with watered-down milk.) What purpose could be served by making up this story? And why now, instead of at the time eight years ago?

I can think of two possible motives. One would be to aggrandize the Trice family. But that doesn't explain why now.

A motive I find more plausible given the timing is the passage three months ago of the Every Student Succeeds Act. This superseded the No Child Left Behind Act, some of whose more objectionable features had been providing opponents of Common Core with ammunition for attacking it. With NCLB gone, new objections to Common Core had to be mounted. Trice's creative little story evidently serves this purpose (he says so himself), with the additional benefit that those susceptible to arguments against Common Core are likely to find the story more viscerally understandable than the more esoteric issues that had bedeviled NCLB.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.


When googling Ed Trice, some interesting links come up, including this one, which appears to be about the article's author, as he is listed on the original site as working for "Liquid Nitrogen Overclocking" and "Lightning Cloud Computing": https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=185565.0 Also, "Lightning Cloud Computing" appears to have a Facebook page, but no actual company website, and is listed as "Defunct" on Zoominfo.com.

I can likewise find no actual references for any company called "Liquid Nitrogen Overclocking" besides the above posting accusing Ed Trice of fraud. His company website goes to a Japanese site, his last blog entry was from 2009 and his personal website is defunct. But his website was originally called "gothicchess.com", so it is quite likely that Ed Trice is the individual in this article from 2008, which details how he lost a $21 million fraud suit for selling bogus chess software: https://www.chess.com/article/view/labate-sues-trice-for-212-million

I have been able to find absolutely no corroborating evidence of this story -- no news articles, no TV reports, nothing in any educational bulletins. Further there is no information about how and where this occurred, not even the name of the school district. As I am an employee of a large school district, it's very likely that information about such a wide-ranging and significant case would have come to our attention, but so far I've found nothing.

I think skepticism is very warranted without a lot more supporting evidence and specifics. More information would be welcome.

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    This is largely an ad hominem attack. Yes, it should ensure we keep out skeptical radar up, but whether he worked for a company and whether it was successful doesn't address the truth of this question. – Oddthinking Mar 21 '16 at 2:06
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    It can be difficult to prove a negative. Where the question is about the truthfulness of an autobiographical story establishing that the storyteller has a history of lying (and being successfully sued for it) is relevant. Granted, this doesn't directly answer the question about the math test, so it may have better served as a comment than an answer. – Psychonaut Mar 21 '16 at 10:05
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    It is difficult to prove, but a statement from a relevant authority should do it - i.e. someone working for the relevant department should do it. Alternatively, a statement from one of the affected students that their score was not reduced 3 months later. – Oddthinking Mar 21 '16 at 10:29
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    @oddthinking I'm not sure this is entirely ad hominem -- pointing out that someone has repeatedly made fraudulent claims in the past is a valid factor to keep in mind when considering the question "is this person telling the truth about this outrageous claim?" – Shadur Mar 21 '16 at 18:17
  • @Oddthinking But if there was never any such question on any such test, you can't find authorities very easily, especially presuming that it is hard to get and search thru a copy of every such test that has ever been given. But I would like some evidence that foxxxtail does know what happened at a large school district in 2008/2009/whenever. – nealmcb Mar 22 '16 at 13:52

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