Jared Rader

A Functional Approach to Verbal Math in Ruby

Inspired by my functional approach to solving the verbal math problem in JavaScript, I decided to implement a similar approach in Ruby.

My first solution took advantage of Ruby’s everything-is-an-object nature, sending number objects symbols and values, which made solving the problem pretty easy.

However, it’s possible to take a functional approach in Ruby that is nearly equivalent to how you could solve this problem in JavaScript. And then, you can even combine this with Ruby’s object-oriented nature and metaprogramming capabilities to create a truly elegant solution.

While JavaScript has anonymous functions, Ruby has something similar in blocks, procs, and lambdas.

Here’s a language conversion to illustrate how you can achieve very similar functionality in Ruby and JavaScript (Check out my last post where I explain the JavaScript function in-depth):


function plus(amount) {
  function add(number) {
    return number + amount;
  return add;


def plus(amount)
  add = Proc.new { |num| num + amount }
  return add

How cool is that? My plus() method defines a Proc called add that takes num and adds it to amount. That proc is what’s ultimately returned.

I overengineered the Ruby implementation just a bit to make it look as close to the JavaScript plus() function as much as possible, but Ruby allows me to be even more succinct - I could have left out creating the add variable and simply returned Proc.new { |num| num + amount }.

Now check out the number functions side-by-side:


function one(opFunc) {
  return opFunc ? opFunc(1) : 1;


def one(op_method = nil)
  op_method ? op_method.call(1) : 1

They operate pretty much the same. In Ruby now, the plus(one) inside of a simple two(plus(one)) call evaluates to a proc where amount equals 1. So when it’s passed to two(), you get add.call(2), which passes 2 as num and adds it to amount which is set when passing one to plus.

I can now combine this functional approach with Ruby’s class-based data types and metaprogramming to create a very cool solution:

%w(zero one two three four five six seven eight nine).each_with_index do |num, index|
  define_method(num) do |op_method = nil|
    op_method ? op_method.call(index) : index

%w(plus + minus - times * divided_by /).each_slice(2) do |word_op|
  word, op = word_op

  define_method(word) do |amount|
    Proc.new { |num| num.send(op, amount * 1.0) }

one plus one
#=> 2.0
nine divided_by four
#=> 2.25
eight times 4
#=> 32.0

Pretty cool, huh? Notice that I’m multiplying every amount by 1.0 so as to avoid ZeroDivisionErrors.

For a great article comparing JavaScript functions and Ruby blocks, procs and lambdas, check out Skilldrick’s blog.