Butler, who works the 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift Thursday to Saturday, says this impressive trick is something he learned as a junior in high school. “The truth of the matter is, it’s third-grade math,” Butler says. “The kids might think I’m really smart, but it’s simple. I’m not talking quantum physics here.”
Butler says he uses the birthday trick as a way to get to know the students, but not all are receptive to his antics at first.
“Some kids want to know why I want to know their birthday. It’s like they’re afraid I’m trying to find out if they’re 21 or not,” he says. “I could care less about their ages.”
Kirkland House residents have become accustomed to Butler’s friendly birthday inquiry. “I’ve heard him describe his algorithm and known him so long that the mysticism has worn off,” says James R. Whittle ’03, who Butler says was born on a Friday. Whittle says has no idea which day of the week he was born and he hasn’t bothered to check if Butler’s right. This is typical, Butler says, but he is undeterred.
Butler can also can square three-digit numbers in his head, but he is reluctant to reveal his techniques. It takes several Kirkland House visitors and 30 minutes of chit-chat, but he finally caves and shares his secret algorithm with FM—on the condition that it not be published. “I’ll sue the F off your M,” he warns. A few hints: The trick involves massive amounts of mental math, memorization and effort. And it only works for dates after 1583.
“If [students] want to learn it, then they can come and see me,” says Butler, who—by the way—was born on a Saturday.