Tumut Man Mathematical Genius

1 February 1951 Gilgandra Weekly

The following articles from the "Daily Telegraph" of March 9, 1931, and from the "Mutual Provident Messenger" of March 2, 1931, respecting the mathematical capabilities of Mr. J. F. Orr, of Tumut (father of Mr. J. G.. Orr, Tumut solicitor) are of interest:

When the world ceases looking for genius only In the most romantic highways it might take a peep into the A.M.P. building in Pitt Street and look over the shoulder of Mr. J. Orr as he works. No-one in Australia has a better claim to genius.

With lightning rapidity - actually more quickly than the best adding and calculating machine - he solves the most involved mathematical problems, adding and dividing and multiplying and compounding huge series of figures with unfailing accuracy, and with an ease which leaves the ordinary man gasping.

Mr. Orr has been subjected to the most rigorous test, frequently against the watch, and in competition with a calculating machine.

It is office history that he has never failed. The mere mention of some few of his recorded achievements, in the presence of his office principals, is overwhelming.

He is able to add columns of six figures and have the answer written in a few seconds. 

No hesitant dot-and-carry-one manner; no scribbling in the margin or pencilling the tens while he adds the digits, no holding of breath of wrinkling of brow, no paralysing fear that someone will interrupt and send him furiously to the first column to start all over again, no facial wriggling - just a sleek, polished calculation, always right, and so rapidly done that Oxford wrangler would salaam.

"Head Work"

Columns of four figures written down casually while Mr. Orr glanced at the paper were totalled in his head, and simultaneously with the notation of the last unit he had the answer waiting.

He adds columns of pounds, shillings and pence by converting each row into pence. In a few seconds he is able to give the answer both in pence, and reconverted into the larger units.

Under rigid tests he has multiplied mentally sets of three and four figures.

Asked to multiply 4496 x 3578, he gave the correct answer - 16,086,688 - in a few seconds. With a similar ease he can deal with other immense sums mentally. He can repeat any times table at will.

One test was with 189 times table, and without turning a hair he recited an extraordinary list of figures.  

He multiplies sets from five figures in both multiplier and - multiplicand up to 24 figures, and gives the answer in one line, using no other figures whatever.

He was tried with 456789 x 274568 as a sort of aperitif. In less than half a minute he gave the answer of 125,419, 642,152.

Then he proved the calculation to be correct. This entire calculation took less than one-fourth the time a skilled mathematician took to do the original sum.

This prodigious test should have been sufficient to satisfy the most sceptical. Apparently it was not.

Something a little more difficult was put to him - 123456789 x 987654321. In 40 seconds he had given the correct answer, 121,932,631,112,635,369.

Mr. Orr then made a suggestion. He was beginning to get tired of just fiddling about. Why not ask him something difficult?

So he was asked the answer to 3456789 634219 x 98763459837743. In a few minutes, in one line, without any other figures being used he gave the correct answer of 34,140,450,420,563,254,690,501,717.

This was tested by a calculating machine and proved to be correct.

Decimals, Too!    

Who could give the answer in five seconds to 67/18/11 x 189? Mr. Orr did. It is 12,841/15/3.

Who could give power up to the tenth power of any single figure or sum of squares or cubes of any number of figures? Mr. Orr can - and has.    

Is there anything he cannot do? The last test on record which was put to him was to find what the interest would be on 63 days on 128 at 4 per cent.

As inevitably as the sunrise the answer came correctly in a few seconds as 238.6 pence; and by way of an addendum it was mentioned that the completed decimal was .6060273972.

Exhaustive tests are said to have proved that; he can do al- most any calculation in half the time it takes a calculating machine.  

In Hungary there is another man who performs similarly astounding calculating feats.

Their gift has a generic kinship to the faculty which enables certain boy chess players to outplay older and very formidable opponents as easily as a saucy little sloop outsailed, outran and outmanoeuvred a lumbering ship-of-the-line in Cloudesley Shovel's day.

Mr. J. F. Orr is an uncle of Mrs. Ivy Tym, of Shawood,  Coonamble, and has many other relatives and friends in this   district. He married Dolly Colwell, of Billeroy (Elizer Cameron Orr), whose passing was noted in "The Times" recently. Mr. Orr hopes to visit Coonamble shortly, with his son, Mr. J. T. Orr, and renew acquaintances with his old friends.