Just how expensive is gas?

Charles AgarAspen, CO Colorado
Amy Ward, 12, and math tutor Alyssa Poynter, left, perform their study at Carl's Pharmacy. (Jim Paussa/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN Think gas prices are getting ridiculous?Try powering your car on Gatorade, bottled water or shampoo – all pricier than a gallon of refined crude at the pump.At least that’s what Amy Ward, 12, and her summer math tutor, Alyssa Poynter, found out during a recent survey of products at Carl’s Pharmacy.Ward, who has been schooled at home so far, is upping her math skills in preparation for attending seventh grade at a school in Manhattan in September. And the recent exercise was not just a lesson in ratios and conversion but global warming and climate change.”I posed the questions in terms of ‘If we could power a car by anything, what would be the cheapest?’ ” said Poynter, who is a high school math and science teacher in Vancouver.

The pair’s meticulous study of the liquids on the Carl’s Pharmacy shelves produced interesting results.”I was really surprised. People are so up in arms that gas is so expensive,” Ward said. But gas turned out to be cheaper than any liquid they could find at Carl’s.Referring to her hand-drawn grid of prices, Ward said that at just three cents per ounce, gas outperformed everything from mouthwash at 46 cents per ounce, to bottled water at 11 cents and sports drinks costing 7 cents per ounce.”What really surprised me was looking at the water, actually,” Ward said, adding she even chose an on-sale brand of bottled water that still couldn’t beat the bargain price of gasoline – not even gas at Aspen prices of $3.98 per gallon. “If anything could power a car, it’s gas,” Ward said.The exercise proved to Ward how math can make life a little easier.

Calculating out how many ounces were in a gallon by meticulously measuring out and pouring 128 one-ounce shot glasses of water into a gallon container one by one took more than 30 minutes, but doing the conversion using ratios took less than a minute, Ward said.”Alyssa’s made math a lot more fun,” Ward said.But the lesson didn’t stop at fractions.When Ward saw Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” she was shocked.”His documentary really helped me realize we have to make some changes,” Ward said. “If [climate change] is really going to happen we need to do something about it.”Ward said she is happy so many people are driving hybrid cars and electric vehicles, but she hopes for better solutions in the future – joking that maybe there could be a car that runs on pollen.

“I’m really hoping people can find a better way to power cars,” Ward said.But if there is one thing that disappointed Ward about the exercise it was that it wouldn’t be economical to power cars on Izze, one of her favorite drinks.In another fun lesson, Ward and Poynter did an informal survey of the music playing in Aspen area shops. Counting the beats of music playing over loudspeakers, Ward noticed that designer shops played mild relaxing music with fewer beats per minute, perhaps to encourage shoppers to linger, she said, while cafes played jazzier music and the gas station pumped peppy pop.”The lesson is that math is everywhere,” Poynter said.The pair were busy figuring out their ages on different planets recently – “You’re about four times older on Mercury,” Poynter pointed out – and the mathaholics will take a digital camera into the fields around Aspen to learn more about how nature follows the rules of geometry.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is


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