Turning the Tables


One thing computers are very, very good at is arithmetic. This sheet will show you how to make the computer test how good you are at it. The computer is probably about 10,000,000,000 times faster than you, but for now let’s only test how accurate you are.

What you need to know

To do this sheet, you need to know:

  • The basic bits of Python, from Sheet 1 (Introducing Python)
  • Some simple arithmetic!

Planning it out

When you start to think about writing a program, it’s helpful to begin by thinking exactly what will usually happen when the program runs. It’ll probably go something like this:

What’s 6 times 7? 49
No, I’m afraid the answer is 42.
What’s 3 times 2? 6
That’s right – well done.
And so on, with several more questions…
What’s 5 times 9? 45
That’s right – well done.

I asked you 10 questions. You got 7 of them right.
Well done!

So, here are some things you need to be able to make the computer do:

  • Choose numbers (at random, preferably)
  • Display a question
  • Calculate the right answer
  • Get an answer from the person using the program
  • See whether it’s right or not
  • Display a that’s right or that’s wrong message
  • Keep count of how many questions were answered right
  • Ask a total of (say) 10 questions, and then stop
  • Display a final message saying how you’ve done

That’s quite a lot of things to do, but most of them are quite easy. Let’s do them one at a time.

Random numbers

Let’s start with the first item on that list: choosing the numbers. Try asking Python this and see what it says:

>>> from gasp import *    # begin graphics programs with this line (see below)
>>> from random import randint  # Use this for getting random numbers
>>> randint(10, 15)

That first line is an import statement. You’ll need to put it at the start of every program you write that uses our gasp graphics. The next import statement lets you generate random numbers with randint. The third line calls randint to ask for a random number between 10 and 15.

As well as putting these in programs you write, you should also type them in when you start a Python session. Otherwise Python won’t understand some of the things you ask it to do.

note: See Sheet M (Modules) if you want the gruesome details of what’s going on here.

What do you think randint does? Try repeating that last line a few more times until you’re sure you understand how it behaves.

We can give a name to each random number, to save them for later use:

>>> num1 = randint(1, 10)
>>> num2 = randint(1, 10)
>>> num1
>>> num2
Challenge 1

Make Python print a question like this:

What is 7 times 2?

where the two numbers are generated randomly, between 1 and 10, inclusive.

Remember to use str() to convert numbers to strings before you concatenate them together. str(randint(1, 10)) will give you a random number between 1 and 10 converted to a string.

Helpful hint: Strings can be concatenated and the result can be named using a variable:

>>> question = "What is " + str(randint(1, 10)) + " times " + str(randint(1, 10)) + "? "
>>> print(question)
What is 8 times 4?

Questions and answers

OK, so now you know how to make Python display the question, but this isn’t much use if you can’t get an answer from the person using the program. Fortunately, you can. Try this and see what happens:

>>> print(int(input("Enter a number: ")))

What about this?

>>> print(3 * int(input("Enter a number: ")))

How about this?

>>> print(int(input("What is 5 time 9? ")))

Or this?

>>> question = "What is " + str(7) + " times " + str(5) + "? "
>>> print(int(input(question)))
Challenge 2

Make Python ask for two numbers, add them up, and print the result. Hint: you can do it with a single command.

You can save the number the user enters for int(input("Enter a number: ")) by giving it a name. Try this:

>>> question = 'What is your favorite number? '
>>> answer = int(input(question))
What is your favorite number? 7
>>> answer
Challenge 3

Now: Write a short program — call it mathquiz.py — that displays a multiplication question using two random numbers, as above, and then gets the user to type in an answer. This should just be a matter of combining two things you’ve already done. Don’t worry about making the program check whether the user’s number is right, or anything. Save this program so that you don’t lose it: you’ll be needing it again.

Remembering the numbers

Well, now is the time to worry about making the program check whether the user’s number is right. This is trickier than anything else you’ve done so far, because you will need to use those random numbers twice: once when you’re saying what question you want answered, and once when you’re working out the right answer.

Important Principle: If you’re writing a program and you need to use something twice, give it a name.

We discussed names in Sheet 1 (Introducing Python), but here’s a brief reminder.

You give things names by using the = sign, and after that you can use the name in place of the thing you named:

>>> thing = 1234
>>> 5 * thing
Challenge 4

Write a program that makes a random number and prints it out 5 times. (This is not the same thing as printing out 5 different random numbers!) You’ll need to give the random number a name.

Challenge 5

Find the program you wrote that prints a question and asks for the answer. Change it so that it gives names to the numbers in the question. Check that you’ve done it right by making it print the question twice – run the program and make sure that it does ask the same question twice, not two different questions.

Make your mathquiz.py program do the following:

  1. Choose two random numbers from 1 to 10.
  2. Display a multiplication question involving them.
  3. Ask what the answer is.
  4. Say what the answer should have been.

You’ve already done the first three of these; so the only new thing is the last one. Save the program again!

Right or Wrong?

The program you’ve just written could be used for testing someone’s times tables, but it seems rather silly to make the human check all the answers; that’s just the kind of boring job computers do well. So, the next stage is to get the machine to check whether the answer you gave was right, instead of just saying what it should have been and leaving you to decide.

To do this, you need to learn a new – and very important – idea.


Write a program that looks like this, and run it. The spaces at the start of some of the lines are important!

if 1 < 2:
    print('Something is wrong!')
    print('Something is right!')

The reason why the spaces at the start of a line matter is that Python uses them to decide how much of your program is controlled by the if. Suppose you say

if 1 > 1000:

Then the computer will print Boink!, because that line isn’t part of the if. But if the print 'Boink!' line had spaces at the start like the print 'Ouch!' line, then it would be part of the if, and therefore wouldn’t get printed.

Try putting 4 spaces (the recommended indentation in Python) in front of print 'Boink!' and see what happens. Add a few more print statements both indented and not indented. What happens if you add a print statement with 3 spaces instead of 4?

Most computer languages don’t take any notice of space at the start of a line. This means that they have to solve the problem in a different way; usually they need something like end if at the end of the if, or else they insist that you surround everything controlled by the if in some kind of brackets. Python’s way is easier to read.

Now change the less than (<) to greater than (>), and run the program again. Can you guess what’s going on?

In case you haven’t already met the symbols in school: < means is less than , and > means is greater than.

Challenge 6

Write a program that asks you for a number and then prints different things depending on whether the number is bigger than 100 or not.

For your tables-testing program, of course, what you want to know isn’t whether the number you typed in is bigger than the correct answer; you want to know whether it’s equal to it.

You might expect to do that by writing if something = somethingelse: and so on, but in fact it turns out that to avoid confusion between (1) using = to mean is equal to and (2) using = to mean is the name of, Python uses different symbols for those two things.

You’ve already seen that = is how you say is the name of, so is equal to must be something different.

In fact, in Python is equal to is written with two equals signs, like this: ==.

If you want to know more about if and related things, see Sheet C (Conditionals).

Challenge 7

Change the little program you just wrote that tests whether a number is bigger than 100, so that instead it tests whether the number is equal to 100.

Challenge 8

Make your mathquiz.py print a yes! or no! message (like the ones in the sample dialog in the Planning it out section earlier in the sheet) depending on whether you typed in the right answer to the question or not.

So now you have a program that tests you on one multiplication question, and then stops. You’re making progress…

Over and over and over again

You may remember the for loop, from Sheet 1 (Introducing Python). Whether you do or not, here’s an example of how to use it. Write a little program:

for x in 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60:
    n = int(input("Please give me a number: "))

    if n == x:
        print("You got it!  Your number and mine are both " + str(x) + ".")
        print("Your number, " + str(n) + " is not " + str(x) + ".")

Remember – spaces at the starts of lines matter! Every statement inside the for loop is indented 4 spaces. The statements inside the if and else expressions are indented 4 more spaces. Indentation is very important to Python programs.

Challenge 9

Put this program inside a for loop, so that it repeats three times:

from random import randint

win1 = randint(1, 10)
win2 = randint(11, 20)
win3 = randint(21, 30)

winners = str(win1) + " " + str(win2) + " " + str(win3)

print("And the three lucky winners are: " + winners + ".")

Move everything except the import statement inside the for loop.

If you managed that, do something similar to mathquiz.py so that it does everything 10 times.

If you want to know more about how to do things over and over again in Python, see Sheet L (Loops).

Who’s counting?

A little while ago we were complaining that your program forced the person using it to check their own answers. You’ve fixed that now, but the user still has to count how many answers they’ve got right. The computer ought to be able to do that, too.

Here’s a little program to try. It doesn’t have much to do with the times table tester, but you’ll probably find what you have to do next easier if you try this first.

odd = 1
for x in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6:
    print('An odd number:', odd)
    odd = odd + 2

That last line may look rather strange: how can odd be equal to odd + 2? Well, remember that we said a little while ago that in Python == means is equal to , and = means is a name for . What the line tells Python to do is: work out odd + 2, and then call that odd.

In Sheet 1 (Introducing Python) we mentioned that what we’re calling names are often called variables. You’ve now discovered why: the things they name can change, or vary. In the program above, odd starts off meaning 1; then it means 3, then 5, and so on.

OK. Back to the math quiz.

Challenge 10

Add each of the following lines to your mathquiz.py program. You’ll have to work out where in the program. Some of the lines may need some spaces added at the start.

right = 0

right = right + 1

print("I asked you 10 questions.  You got " + str(right) + " of them right.")

print("Well done!")

Improving the program

If you’ve done everything correctly so far, you now have a program that does what we described at the start of this sheet. There are lots of things that could be made better; if you aren’t fed up of the program yet, you could try some of these:

  1. Improve the layout. It’s a pity that the question and the user’s answer have to be on different lines, and that there are some unnecessary spaces. Have a look at Sheet I (Input and Output) which tells you a bit more about input and output: that is, making the program ask things or say things. You may find that you also need to know some things described in Sheet S (Strings).
  2. Timing. It’s probably not hard to get 100% if you don’t mind taking, say, an hour over each question. But if you get 100% and take less than a second per question, you’re doing very well. So, make the program time you and report at the end how long you took. You’ll need to look at Sheet T (Time) for this.
  3. Adjustable difficulty. Some people are very good with numbers. They might find being tested on numbers from 1 to 10 rather boring. Some people are very bad with numbers, and might prefer easier questions. Obviously, it’s not too hard to change the program to use larger or smaller numbers — look at the program and make sure you can see how to do that. It might be more interesting if the program became a little harder every time you get a question right, and a little easier every time you get one wrong. For this to work well, you’d probably need to ask more than 10 questions.
  4. Adjustable length. You might want a quick test, with only four questions. Or a long one, with 100 questions, to see how long you can stay awake. Make the program begin by asking how many questions you want, and then ask that many.To do this, you’ll need to know about things called ranges. They’re described in Sheet L (Loops).

What next?

The next sheet in the series is Sheet 3 (Pretty Pictures). It’s all about graphics: drawing pictures with Python.