How to count with your fingers (efficiently?)

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In this post I will teach you how to count using only your fingers! That’s right boys and girls!!

Disclaimer: I first have to apologize to those people who have lost their hands (or some fingers), but this will still apply to you (however, you won’t be able to count as high). Now if you have no hands but are good with putting your toes up and down then this will also work. If you have no hands and no feet… then ask a friend to help you. If your friend has no fingers and no toes, then ask one who DOES to help you. If you have no friends that have fingers or toes, then… monkey sticks >_>

Method 1 (Traditional Method):

Yup, you guessed it!
one finger = 1
two fingers = 2
three fingers = 3

nine fingers = 9
ten fingers = 10

But did you know you can count to 10 using only one hand? The chinese
are WAYYYY ahead of us (north americans) when it comes to counting.
This takes us to method 2.
Method 2 (Chinese Number Gestures):

If you are chinese you may already know this method. I have many chinese friend and they teach me counting. The idea is you can count from 0 to 10 using only ONE hand. The best way to describe it is in picture form. The numbers from 0 to 5 are easy and exactly what you would expect:
finger counting
was easy, wasn’t it? What about the other numbers? Well not so easy,
but once you learn it you never forget it (well I actually forget it
but i’m not as smart as you). Let’s begin:

  • Six: Thumb and pinky extended.
  • Seven: Umm, I don’t know how to describe.. umm… it’s like you hand just ate something and has it’s mouth closed.
  • Eight: It’s L-shape with thumb and index.
  • Nine: It looks like a hook to me.
  • Ten: This is like “please please please” (fingers crossed).

Now for pictures to see what the heck I am talking about:
finger counting
The last one is an alternative for 10 using two hands. Neato! Now go
show all your friends.. go go go! Oh wait, there’s more, so hold on,
don’t go yet… read the rest of this post… Onto method 3.

Method 3: Finger Binary

method lets you count from 0 to 1023 with two hands. For those of us
who are mathematically inclined, you can probably guess how this method
works. If you don’t know monkey sticks about math then I am here to
HELP! Binary means 0 or 1.

In binary, the far right digit represents 2^0, the one to the left of it 2^1, then 2^2, and so on. For example,
100101 = 1 x 2^5 + 0 x 2^4 + 0 x 2^3 + 1 x 2^2 + 0 x 2^1 + 1 x 2^0 = 37

0 in binary is 0
1 in binary is 1
2 in binary is 10 (that is, we have one 2^1 and zero 2^0’s totaling 2)
3 in binary is 11 (that is, we have one 2^1 and one 2^0’s making 3)
4 in binary is 100
5 in binary is 101
6 in binary is 110
7 in binary is 111
and so on…
With our fingers representing 0’s and 1’s, we can represent a binary digit with 10 columns:
* * * * * * * * * *
The largest being
1111111111 (which in normal numbers is 1023).
Now the standard way to do this is by the following table:

. | Left Hand | Right Hand
| Thumb Index Middle Ring Pinky | Pinky Ring Middle Index Thumb
Power | 2^9 2^8 2^7 2^6 2^5 | 2^4 2^3 2^2 2^1 2^0
Value | 512 256 128 64 32 | 16 8 4 2 1

The values of each raised finger are then added together to get the total number.
Okay, let’s do some picture examples!
Can you guess what this is? The person is using their RIGHT hand and
has the pinky, ring and index fingers up. If you know binary you can
just compute the number easily, if not, use the above table to get:

16 + 8 + 2 = 26

WOW! AMAZING! Now go tell all your friends! And
the next time you have to count to 874 try to use the binary method
(it’ll really get you thinking and you’ll become an expert binarician). Let’s do one more example to make sure we understand:

middle finger

Notice how he has his RIGHT hand up and only his middle finger. His left hand doesn’t have any fingers up. Thus, using the above table we get FOUR! Easy wasn’t it? So remember kids, the next time you want four of something, use “Binary Finger Notation” as shown by the gentleman above!

4 thoughts on “How to count with your fingers (efficiently?)”

  1. Really nice post, never thought of counting in binary on my fingers before ^_^
    And on the same note, the sign language (at least in Sweden) counts to 99 (well, basically any number) using only one hand, although the digits 6 to 10 differs from the Chinese way described here.
    What we use is the same notation for digit 1-5 (notice that the thumb is never used before “5”), after that we restart the 1-5 “finger indexing”, but with the thumb extended to note that the other fingers show +5 the number of fingers. When reaching 10, the notation goes as showing “1”, but with a twist of the wrist to differ it from an actual “1”. All numbers above 10 are then proceeded with a “twist” notation of the number of “tens” with the wrist (e.g. for 42, show first the sign 4 with a twist and then followed by the normal sign for 2). This way lets the user count to 99 relatively easy and, with a bit of memory of how many twists (to my knowledge there is no sign for hundreds with only one hand), any number should be reachable with only one hand. (Sorry for not having any pictures).

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