Everyone knows a square wheel won't roll. Or will it?

Hop on a colorful, square-wheeled tricycle at the "Math Midway" and see how putting that wheel onto the right shape of roadway will offer a smooth ride. As you're playing, you'll be painlessly learning about mathematical theories and functions. Each of the 20 exhibits at the carnival-themed Math Midway has a corresponding "Here's the Math" sign that explains the concepts used to solve the puzzle or challenge.

The Math Midway is the precursor to a bigger project - a Museum of Math set to open in Manhattan in early 2012, the brainchild of the same group of Long Islanders who created the traveling museum. Get a sneak peek at the kind of things you'll see there by visiting the Math Midway before it heads to points west.

Playing to learn 

The exhibits in the Math Midway are all hands-on. Employ teamwork at "Puzzle Plaza" to fit together oversized geometric toys. A "Ring of Fire" uses lasers to show how three-dimensional geometric shapes can be sliced to form new shapes. A "Wheel of Chance" teaches odds and probability. A human-size maze requires participants to walk through it to the end without making any left turns, an introduction to graph theory. Use gold doubloons to keep a boat balanced or to figure out Pirate X's weight, and you'll be learning algebra.

The target group for the Math Midway - and the future museum - is middle-schoolers, but those younger will enjoy playing with the exhibits even if they can't yet grasp the complex concepts behind them, says Glen Whitney of Stony Brook, the project's executive director. Whitney says he feels great doing something he considers a social good. "It's not like I'm solving world hunger. But I have no idea about how to solve world hunger," Whitney says. "What I have an angle on is telling kids great stories about math."

How it all began

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A math museum called the Goudreau used to be run out of two classrooms in a community center in Herricks, but it folded in the summer of 2006. Whitney had been there with his two children, and when he thought about going back, discovered it had closed. At the time, he was working for a Setauket-based hedge fund, had won a seat on the Three Village school district's board of education and was running a math club at his daughter's elementary school.

One morning in the shower, he says he started thinking, " 'Why not create a new, bigger math museum that could be available to the whole country?' "

"When you don't have a home, the easiest thing to start with is a traveling exhibit that you can rent out to other museums," Whitney says. He enlisted fellow Long Islanders interested in math; the group secured $500,000 in seed money, and the traveling exhibit launched in June 2009 at the World Science Festival in Manhattan.

A permanent home 

Whitney has since quit his job at the hedge fund to become the Museum of Mathematics' executive director, operating out of a house in St. James. His staff of eight includes Cindy Lawrence of Port Jefferson Station as chief of operations and George Hart, a professor of computer science at Stony Brook University, as chief of content and strategic planning. The group also has a student adviser - who this year was Lawrence's son, David, valedictorian of Comsewogue High School's Class of 2010. Students interested in taking his seat as he heads to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology should e-mail studentadvisor@momath.org.

The group is looking to rent space in Manhattan for the museum - 10,000 square feet for exhibits that will include totally different concepts from the Math Midway, and another 10,000 square feet for classrooms, events, a gift shopand offices. The goal is to keep admission less than the price of a movie, Whitney says. The Math Midway will continue to travel the country.

THE DETAILS

What: Math Midway traveling math museum exhibit

When | Where: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through July 6 at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization Educational & Cultural Center, Stony Brook Village Center, Main Street on the Harbor, Stony Brook

Info: $11 per adult, $10 senior citizens, $9 children younger than 12; 631-689-5888; momath.org; wmho.org