| | |

31-derful Puzzle

31-derful is fun and easy-to-implement group problem solving activity that is a perfect activity for the first day or week of school. The only supplies needed to implement this activity is a deck of playing cards for each group.

31-derful activity

I used the 31-derful activity with my Algebra 1 students for the first day of school. This year, I am emphasizing problem solving strategies and cooperative learning in my math classroom.  

So, I chose first-day activities for my classes to participate in that would require or encourage them to work in a group. My Algebra 2 students completed an activity called Five Easy Pieces.

I learned about 31derful (pronounced thirty-wonderful) from Sarah Rubin at Everybody is a Genius. Her awesome pre-made graphics make it super easy to explain the rules of the puzzle to your students. I just put her images in my SmartBoard file.


Students are given a regular deck of 52 playing cards. If you have a casino near your school, you can sometimes get donations of playing cards for your classroom. You can also pick up playing cards in bulk from Amazon for relatively cheap.

Once you have playing cards in your classroom, you could also use them for activities such as the Pips Puzzle or the Playing Card Puzzle. They are also perfect for playing Sara VanderWerf’s 5 x 5 Game.

Instructions for Playing 31-derful

Their task is to choose 25 of those cards to arrange in a 5 x 5 pattern. Sounds easy enough, right?

The goal of the puzzle is to create rows and columns of cards that sum to exactly 31.

Each row and each column needs to add up to exactly 31. Often, students will get all the rows adding up to 31 before realizing that they were supposed to be paying attention to the columns, too!

The number cards have the same value as the number printed on them. Face cards are worth 10. Aces are worth 11.

My Experiences with 31-derful

One thing I’m going to definitely have to work on with my Algebra 1 students is listening and following directions.  When I explained the rules to the game many of my students did not listen well or stopped listening after they thought they knew how the game went.  

As a result, many of my students thought that only the rows had to add up to 31.  They were a little mad after discovering that they weren’t actually done with the puzzle because their columns did not add up to 31 as well.

Students working on 31-derful playing card puzzle.

 I was disappointed with how my students did with this activity.  In my three Algebra 1 classes, only one group of students was able to successfully complete the puzzle.  

A lot of my students decided that this puzzle was impossible.  

They were quick to grow frustrated and give up.  We’re definitely going to have to work on persevering in problem solving this year!

Students working on 31-derful playing card puzzle.

I did learn a very important lesson on this first day of school.  They make special decks of cards to play pinochle.  If you unintentionally give a group of students a deck of pinochle cards to play 31-derful with, they will get extremely frustrated.  

You will wonder why they are only using 9s, 10s, Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Aces to build their array of cards.  They will be wondering why those are they only cards you gave them.  

Eventually, you will look at the box of cards and see that it is a pinochle deck.  You will google pinochle and learn that a pinochle deck consists of eight each of the above cards.

Puzzle Solutions

I intentionally do not make answers to the printable math puzzles I share on my blog available online because I strive to provide learning experiences for my students that are non-google-able. I would like other teachers to be able to use these puzzles in their classrooms as well without the solutions being easily found on the Internet.

However, I do recognize that us teachers are busy people and sometimes need to quickly reference an answer key to see if a student has solved a puzzle correctly or to see if they have interpreted the instructions properly.

If you are a teacher who is using these puzzles in your classroom, please send me an email at sarah@mathequalslove.net with information about what you teach and where you teach. I will be happy to forward an answer key to you.

Similar Posts