The Suitcase Lady


April 3, 2013, 12:37 am

I must begin by stating that I still love lizards. Nevertheless, 65 lizards recently almost drove me crazy.

One of my favorite schools asked me to do one of my favorite programs, All About Lizards, for their sixth grade classes. Natural science, and lizards in particular, are not hot topics in our schools at the moment. I was excited about the booking. Then an idea popped into my head. I always conclude my science programs with a short art project. What if I told the students about the Dutch artist M.C. Escher and his wonderful lizard tessellations? Then we could construct a lizard tessellation.

Small alarm bells did go off in my head as math skills are not my forte. To be on the safe side, I decided to show a short video on the math involved in making a tessellation. Then I gave each student a pattern of a lizard to creatively decorate and  carefully cut out. Time did not allow us to make our own patterns.

All was going well until someone handed me the fourth lizard. It did not fit neatly as a puzzle piece into its other lizard friends. I had that old familiar sinking feeling: math is something that works for other people but not for me. In fact, math hates me. I felt a nightmare gearing up.

I took all the lizards home to decipher what went wrong and consult my resident math guy. Within an hour, two of us were going crazy. Several more hours later we solved the problem. The pattern I found on the computer was incorrect, 1/4 inch off and not a true tessellation. Surgery was performed with scissors and Scotch tape on 65 lizards. The post operative lizards were glued into place and all cooperated.

All’s well that ends well. I now have a perfect pattern and the kids have a mural up at their school.


6 Comments for this entry

  • Anne Johnston Smith on Facebook

    Wow – really cool – and pretty, too!!

  • Karen Little on Facebook

    Scissors and tape. We are so lucky we live in a modern society where we don’t all need math skills. Love to see another project where all the lizards fit, however! … In a recent trip to St. Petersburg, I did a lot of photographing in its incredible Sunken Garden. Once outside the gate, I wanted to take pictures of the park’s outside landscaping, so discretely clambered on to a neighboring lawn. Just as I was about to set up my shot, I noticed a lizard crawling around on the top of a cool mail box. It made a better subject than landscape . . . I’ll post it to my FaceBook page later today.

  • Mary Tooley on Facebook


    If you go in my blog archives you will find one entitled “Lizards”. I’m wondering if that cute little guy or gal you photographed was doing pushups??!!

    Re the mural….I love the negative space created by not filling the page like a tile floor. But then I am an asymmetrical kind of person! By the way, there is a fabulous Escher museum in the Hague. Have a fabulous time on your wonderful European adventure.

    Peruse my blog:

  • Karen Little on Facebook

    Well, how interesting was that about the lizard pushup! I don’t recall if the lizard I posted was all that hyperactive. It was a very quiet (and stunning) location. He was aware of me, but I have a pretty good telephoto on my camera and I think I was standing far enough back without causing him alarm. That said, I could NOT clearly see the images I was taking. I generally point in the direction of my interest (Panasonic Lumix camera) and hope for the best. If I used my larger Canon 5000 SLR (clear view, fast shutter), I could have drawn a bead on its nostrils.

  • Karen Little on Facebook

    BTW, if you are running any version of Windows under Windows 7, and if you have Photoshop, I have software for you that makes tiles. Fabulous and ez to use.

  • Marco Veerkamp

    Hi Mary,

    I completely and utterly love this post! What happened to you happens to every mathematician. Making an assumption you are not even aware of. It is what makes mathematics hard. Through hard work you found the solution where you did not expect it and finally completed the mural. Bringing art and science together in such a way is beautiful.