The Joke's On Who?

The Joke's On Who?

by Janie Brey

In the mid-1970s, in my junior year of high school at a private prep school, I found myself in a pre-calculus class. I am still confused about how I ended up there because I had always struggled with math, often needing assistance. But this confusing placement led to an unforgettable experience.

Sitting at the back of the classroom were a group of sophomore boys who were studious, pocket calculator-toting fellows who were excited by equations and breezed through the assignments.

The teacher for the class, Mr. Lull, had two roles at the school—advanced math teacher and the dean of discipline. He was a kind, somewhat soft-spoken man who was eager to inspire students to better their math skills and took a keen interest in the whole student and their character development. 

Mr. Lull entered the classroom each day wearing pressed slacks, a tweed sports coat with corduroy elbow patches, and a wool fedora. He always placed the fedora on the desk at the front of the room, closest to the window. The class was on the second floor of the building overlooking the girls’ hockey field.

One day, I heard the whisperings of a plot. It had something to do with Mr. Lull. Before I knew what was happening, one of the students grabbed Mr. Lull’s hat while his back was turned and quickly tossed the fedora out the window.

A day or two later, Mr. Lull arrived to find a photograph on his desk. It was a photo of his hat on the seat in a phone booth, wrapped in large chains. Next to the photo was a ransom note that said, “If you want your hat returned to you, you must sing the alma mater acapella at the next all school assembly.”

By now, Mr. Lull knew who the perpetrators of the crime were. Regardless, at the next assembly, he rose, stood before the packed bleachers, and announced he would sing the alma mater so the kidnappers would return his beloved hat. Mr. Lull then proceeded to tell all the students, who were now silent and curious, that those who had planned this kidnapping plot and crime had to solve a problem. He had buried an item on the girls’ hockey field, and, using math, he challenged the kidnappers to locate what he buried. He proclaimed that the kidnappers would have to serve detention if they could not solve the math problem and find the item.

Mr. Lull then sang the alma mater loudly and proudly, and out of the crowded bleachers flew his beloved hat.

While I wasn’t there for the final scene on the field, I did see the kidnappers—the group of sophomore boys who normally breezed through their math assignments—standing in a circle, reading a paper, and pausing to look the field over. The following day, the rumor spread that those ingenious, mischievous boys were serving detention, now assigned a math problem that could keep them on their toes.

Here’s to creative kids and their equally creative teachers!


Featured in our September 2023 issue, "Jokes"