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Mental calculation comprises arithmetical calculations using only the human brain, with no help from any supplies (such as pencil and paper) or devices such as a calculator. People use mental calculation when computing tools are not available, when it is faster than other means of calculation (such as conventional educational institution methods), or even in a competitive context. Mental calculation often involves the use of specific techniques devised for specific types of problems. People with unusually high ability to perform mental calculations are called mental calculators or lightning calculators.
Many of these techniques take advantage of or rely on the decimal numeral system. Usually, the choice of radix is what determines which method or methods to use.
After applying an arithmetic operation to two operands and getting a result, the following procedure can be used to improve confidence in the correctness of result:
Example
The same procedure can be used with multiple operations, repeating steps 1 and 2 for each operation.
While checking the mental calculation, it is useful to think of it in terms of scaling. For example, when dealing with large numbers, say 1531 × 19625, estimation instructs you to be aware of the number of digits expected for the final value. A useful way of checking is to estimate. 1531 is around 1500, and 19625 is around 20000, so a result of around 20000 × 1500 (30000000) would be a good estimate for the actual answer (30045875). So if the answer has too many digits, a mistake has been made.
When multiplying, a useful thing to remember is that the factors of the operands still remain. For example, to say that 14 × 15 was 211 would be unreasonable. Since 15 is a multiple of 5, the product should be as well. Likewise, 14 is a multiple of 2, so the product should be even. Furthermore, any number which is a multiple of both 5 and 2 is necessarily a multiple of 10, and in the decimal system would end with a 0. The correct answer is 210. It is a multiple of 10, 7 (the other prime factor of 14) and 3 (the other prime factor of 15).
When the digits of b are all smaller than the corresponding digits of a, the calculation can be done digit by digit. For example, evaluate 872 − 41 simply by subtracting 1 from 2 in the units place, and 4 from 7 in the tens place: 831.
When the above situation does not apply, the problem can sometimes be modified:
You may guess what is needed, and accumulate your guesses. Your guess is good as long as you haven't gone beyond the "target" number. 8192 − 732, mentally, you want to add 8000 but that would be too much, so add 7000, then 700 to 1100, is 400 (so far we have 7400), and 32 to 92 can easily be recognized as 60. The result is 7460.
This method can be used to subtract numbers left to right, and if all that is required is to read the result aloud, it requires little of the user's memory even to subtract numbers of arbitrary size.
One place at a time is handled, left to right.
Example: 4075  1844  Thousands: 4  1 = 3, look to right, 075 < 844, need to borrow. 3  1 = 2, say "Two thousand". We are performing 3  1 rather than 4  1 because the column to the right is going to borrow from the thousands place. Hundreds: 0  8 = negative numbers not allowed here. We are going to increase this place by using the number we borrowed from the column to the left. Therefore: 10  8 = 2. It's 10 rather than 0, because we borrowed from the Thousands place. 75 > 44 so no need to borrow, say "two hundred" Tens: 7  4 = 3, 5 > 4, so 54=1
Hence the result is 2231
Many of these methods work because of the distributive property.
Discovered by Artem Cheprasov, there is a method of multiplication that allows the user to utilize 3 steps to quickly multiply numbers of any size to one another via three unique ways.^{[1]}^{[2]}
First, the method allows the user to attach numbers to one another, as opposed to adding or subtracting them, during intermediate steps in order to quicken the rate of multiplication. For instance, instead of adding or subtracting intermediary results such as 357 and 84, the user could simply attach the numbers together (35784) in order to simplify and expedite the multiplication problem. Attaching numbers to one another helps to bypass unnecessary steps found in traditional multiplication techniques.
Secondly, this method uses negative numbers as necessary, even when multiplying two positive integers, in order to quicken the rate of multiplication via subtraction. This means two positive integers can be multiplied together to get negative intermediate steps, yet still the correct positive answer in the end. These negative numbers are actually automatically derived from the multiplication steps themselves and are thus unique to a particular problem. Again, such negative intermediate steps are designed to help hasten the mental math.
Finally, another unique aspect of using this method is that the user is able to choose one of several different "routes of multiplication" to the specific multiplication problem at hand based on their subjective preferences or strengths and weaknesses with particular integers.
Despite the same starting integers, the different multiplication routes give off different intermediate numbers that are automatically derived for the user as they multiply. Some of these intermediaries may be easier than others (e.g. some users may find a route that uses a negative 7, while another route uses a 5 or a 0, which are typically easier to work with mentally for most people, but not in all instances).
If one "route" seems to be harder for one student vs. another route and its intermediate numbers, that student can simply choose another simpler route of multiplication for themselves even though it's the same original problem.
For any 2 digit by 2 digit multiplication problem, if both numbers end in five, the following algorithm can be used to quickly multiply them together:^{[1]}
As a preliminary step simply round the smaller number down and the larger up to the nearest multiple of ten. In this case:
The algorithm reads as follows:
Where t_{1} is the tens unit of the original larger number (75) and t_{2} is the tens unit of the original smaller number (35).
The author also outlines another similar algorithm if you want to round the original larger number down and the original smaller number up instead.
If two numbers are equidistant from the nearest multiple of 100, then a simple algorithm can be used to find the product.^{[1]}
As a simple example:
Both numbers are equidistant (33 away) from their nearest multiple of 100 (0 and 100, respectively).
As a preliminary step simply round the smaller number down and the larger up to the nearest multiple of ten. In this case:
The algorithm reads as follows:
Where u_{1} is the original larger number's (67) units digit and u_{2} is the original smaller number's (33) units digit. T_{1} is the original larger number's tens digit and T_{2} is the original larger number's tens digit multiplied by their respective power (in this case by 10, for a tens digit).
And so:
To easily multiply any 2digit numbers together a simple algorithm is as follows (where a is the tens digit of the first number, b is the ones digit of the first number, c is the tens digit of the second number and d is the ones digit of the second number):
For example,
800 +120 +140 + 21  1081
Note that this is the same thing as the conventional sum of partial products, just restated with brevity. To minimize the number of elements being retained in one's memory, it may be convenient to perform the sum of the "cross" multiplication product first, and then add the other two elements:
i.e., in this example
to which is it is easy to add 21: 281 and then 800: 1081
An easy mnemonic to remember for this would be FOIL. F meaning first, O meaning outer, I meaning inner and L meaning last. For example:
and
where 7 is a, 5 is b, 2 is c and 3 is d.
Consider
this expression is analogous to any number in base 10 with a hundreds, tens and ones place. FOIL can also be looked at as a number with F being the hundreds, OI being the tens and L being the ones.
is the product of the first digit of each of the two numbers; F.
is the addition of the product of the outer digits and the inner digits; OI.
is the product of the last digit of each of the two numbers; L.
Where one number being multiplied is sufficiently small to be multiplied with ease by any single digit, the product can be calculated easily digit by digit from right to left. This is particularly easy for multiplication by 2 since the carry digit cannot be more than 1.
For example, to calculate 2 × 167: 2×7=14, so the final digit is 4, with a 1 carried and added to the 2×6 = 12 to give 13, so the next digit is 3 with a 1 carried and added to the 2×1=2 to give 3. Thus, the product is 334.
To multiply a number by 5,
1. First multiply that number by 10, then divide it by 2. The two steps are interchangeable i.e. you can halve the number and then multiply it.
The following algorithm is a quick way to produce this result:
2. Add a zero to right side of the desired number. (A.) 3. Next, starting from the leftmost numeral, divide by 2 (B.) and append each result in the respective order to form a new number;(fraction answers should be rounded down to the nearest whole number).
EXAMPLE: Multiply 176 by 5. A. Add a zero to 176 to make 1760. B. Divide by 2 starting at the left. 1. Divide 1 by 2 to get .5, rounded down to zero. 2. Divide 7 by 2 to get 3.5, rounded down to 3. 3. Divide 6 by 2 to get 3. Zero divided by two is simply zero.
The resulting number is 0330. (This is not the final answer, but a first approximation which will be adjusted in the following step:)
C. Add 5 to the number that follows any single numeral in this new number that was odd before dividing by two;
EXAMPLE: 176 (IN FIRST, SECOND THIRD PLACES):
1.The FIRST place is 1, which is odd. ADD 5 to the numeral after the first place in our new number (0330) which is 3; 3+5=8. 2.The number in the second place of 176, 7, is also odd. The corresponding number (0 8 3 0) is increased by 5 as well; 3+5=8. 3.The numeral in the third place of 176, 6, is even, therefore the final number, zero, in our answer is not changed. That final answer is 0880. The leftmost zero can be omitted, leaving 880. So 176 times 5 equals 880.
EXAMPLE: Multiply 288 by 5.
A. Divide 288 by 2. We can divide each digit individually to get 144. (Dividing smaller number is easier.)
B. Multiply by 10. Add a zero to yield the result 1440.
Since 9 = 10 − 1, to multiply a number by nine, multiply it by 10 and then subtract the original number from the result. For example, 9 × 27 = 270 − 27 = 243.
This method can be adjusted to multiply by eight instead of nine, by doubling the number being subtracted; 8 × 27 = 270 − (2×27) = 270 − 54 = 216.
Similarly, by adding instead of subtracting, the same methods can be used to multiply by 11 and 12, respectively (although simpler methods to multiply by 11 exist).
Hold hands in front of you, palms facing you. Assign the left thumb to be 1, the left index to be 2, and so on all the way to right thumb is ten. Each "" symbolizes a raised finger and a "−" represents a bent finger.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10           left hand right hand
Bend the finger which represents the number to be multiplied by nine down.
Ex: 6 × 9 would be
         
The right little finger is down. Take the number of fingers still raised to the left of the bent finger and prepend it to the number of fingers to the right.
Ex: There are five fingers left of the right little finger and four to the right of the right little finger. So 6 × 9 = 54.
5 4          
To multiply an integer by 10, simply add an extra 0 to the end of the number. To multiply a noninteger by 10, move the decimal point to the right one digit.
In general for base ten, to multiply by 10^{n} (where n is an integer), move the decimal point n digits to the right. If n is negative, move the decimal n digits to the left.
For single digit numbers simply duplicate the number into the tens digit, for example: 1 × 11 = 11, 2 × 11 = 22, up to 9 × 11 = 99.
The product for any larger nonzero integer can be found by a series of additions to each of its digits from right to left, two at a time.
First take the ones digit and copy that to the temporary result. Next, starting with the ones digit of the multiplier, add each digit to the digit to its left. Each sum is then added to the left of the result, in front of all others. If a number sums to 10 or higher take the tens digit, which will always be 1, and carry it over to the next addition. Finally copy the multipliers leftmost (highest valued) digit to the front of the result, adding in the carried 1 if necessary, to get the final product.
In the case of a negative 11, multiplier, or both apply the sign to the final product as per normal multiplication of the two numbers.
A stepbystep example of 759 × 11:
Further examples:
Another method is to simply multiply the number by 10, and add the original number to the result.
For example:
17 × 11
17 × 10 = 170
170 + 17 = 187
17 × 11 = 187
One last easy way:
If you have a twodigit number, take it and add the two numbers together and put that sum in the middle, and you can get the answer.
For example: 24 x 11 = 264 because 2 + 4 = 6 and the 6 is placed in between the 2 and the 4.
Second example: 87 x 11 = 957 because 8 + 7 = 15 so the 5 goes in between the 8 and the 7 and the 1 is carried to the 8. So it is basically 857 + 100 = 957.
Or if 43 x 11 is equal to first 4+3=7 (For the tens digit) Then 4 is for the hundreds and 3 is for the tens. And the answer is 473
To easily multiply 2 digit numbers together between 11 and 19 a simple algorithm is as follows (where a is the ones digit of the first number and b is the ones digit of the second number):
(10+a)×(10+b) 100 + 10×(a+b) + a×b which can be visualized as three parts to be added: 1 xx yy for example: 17×16 1 = 100 13 (7+6) = 10×(a+b) 42 (7×6) = a×b 272 (total)
This technique allows a number from 6 to 10 to be multiplied by another number from 6 to 10.
Assign 6 to the little finger, 7 to the ring finger, 8 to the middle finger, 9 to the index finger, and 10 to the thumb. Touch the two desired numbers together. The point of contact and below is considered the "bottom" section and everything above the two fingers that are touching are part of the "top" section. The answer is formed by adding ten times the total number of "bottom" fingers to the product of the number of left and righthand "top" fingers.
For example, 9 × 6 would look like this, with the left index finger touching the right little finger:
=10== :right thumb (top) ==9== :right index finger (top) ==8== :right middle finger (top) left thumb: =10== ==7== :right ring finger (top) left index finger: 9><6 :right little finger (BOTTOM) left middle finger: 8 (BOTTOM) left ring finger: 7 (BOTTOM) left little finger: 6 (BOTTOM)
In this example, there are 5 "bottom" fingers (the left index, middle, ring, and little fingers, plus the right little finger), 1 left "top" finger (the left thumb), and 4 right "top" fingers (the right thumb, index finger, middle finger, and ring finger). So the computation goes as follows: 9 × 6 = (10 × 5) + (1 × 4) = 54.
Consider another example, 8 × 7:
=10== :right thumb (top) left thumb: =10== ==9== :right index finger (top) left index finger: ==9== ==8== :right middle finger (top) left middle finger: 8><7 :right ring finger (BOTTOM) left ring finger: 7 6 :right little finger (BOTTOM) left little finger: 6 (BOTTOM)
Five bottom fingers make 5 tens, or 50. Two top left fingers and three top right fingers make the product 6. Summing these produces the answer, 56.
Another example, this time using 6 × 8:
8><6 7 6
Four tens (bottom), plus two times four (top) gives 40 + 2 × 4 = 48.
Here's how it works: each finger represents a number between 6 and 10. When you join fingers representing x and y, there will be 10  x "top" fingers and x  5 "bottom" fingers on the left hand; the right hand will have 10  y "top" fingers and y  5 "bottom" fingers.
Let
Then following the above instructions produces
which is the product we seek.
This technique allows easy multiplication of numbers close and below 100.(9099)^{[3]} The variables will be the two numbers you multiply.
The product of two variables ranging from 9099 will result in a 4digit number. The first step is to find the onesdigit and the tens digit.
Subtract both variables from 100 which will result in 2 onedigit number. The product of the 2 onedigit numbers will be the last two digits of your final product.
Next, subtract one of the two variables from 100. Then subtract the difference from the other variable. That difference will be the first two digits of your final product. And the resulting 4 digit number will be the final product.
Example:
95 x 97  Last two digits: 10095=5 (subtract first number from 100) 10097=3 (subtract second number from 100) 5*3=15 (multiply the two differences) Final Product yx15 First two digits: 10095=5 (Subtract the first number of your equation from 100) 975=92 (Subtract that answer from the second number of your equation) Now, the difference will be the first two digits Final Product 9215 Alternate for first two digits 5+3=8 (Add the two single digits derived when calculating "Last two digits" in previous step) 1008=92 (Subtract that answer from 100) Now, the difference will be the first two digits Final Product 9215
The products of small numbers may be calculated by using the squares of integers; for example, to calculate 13 × 17, you can remark 15 is the mean of the two factors, and think of it as (15 − 2) × (15 + 2), i.e. 15^{2} − 2^{2}. Knowing that 15^{2} is 225 and 2^{2} is 4, simple subtraction shows that 225 − 4 = 221, which is the desired product.
This method requires knowing by heart a certain number of squares:
1^{2} = 1  6^{2} = 36  11^{2} = 121  16^{2} = 256  21^{2} = 441  26^{2} = 676 
2^{2} = 4  7^{2} = 49  12^{2} = 144  17^{2} = 289  22^{2} = 484  27^{2} = 729 
3^{2} = 9  8^{2} = 64  13^{2} = 169  18^{2} = 324  23^{2} = 529  28^{2} = 784 
4^{2} = 16  9^{2} = 81  14^{2} = 196  19^{2} = 361  24^{2} = 576  29^{2} = 841 
5^{2} = 25  10^{2} = 100  15^{2} = 225  20^{2} = 400  25^{2} = 625  30^{2} = 900 
It may be useful to be aware that the difference between two successive square numbers is the sum of their respective square roots. Hence if you know that 12 × 12 = 144 and wish to know 13 × 13, calculate 144 + 12 + 13 = 169.
This is because (x + 1)^{2} − x^{2} = x^{2} + 2x + 1 − x^{2} = x + (x + 1)
x^{2} = (x − 1)^{2} + (2x − 1)
Take a given number, and add and subtract a certain value to it that will make it easier to multiply. For example:
492 is close to 500, which is easy to multiply by. Add and subtract 8 (the difference between 500 and 492) to get
Multiply these numbers together to get 242,000 (This can be done efficiently by dividing 484 by 2 = 242 and multiplying by 1000). Finally, add the difference (8) squared (8^{2} = 64) to the result:
The proof follows:
This method requires memorization of the squares of the onedigit numbers 1 to 9.
The square of mn, mn being a twodigit integer, can be calculated as
Meaning the square of mn can be found by adding n to mn, multiplied by m, adding 0 to the end and finally adding the square of n.
For example, we have 23^{2}:
So 23^{2} = 529.
(10x + 5)^{2}  = (10x + 5)(10x + 5) 
= 100x^{2} + 100x + 25  
= 100(x^{2} + x) + 25  
= 100x(x + 1) + 25 
Suppose we need to square a number x near 50. This number may be expressed as x = 50 − n, and hence the answer x^{2} is (50n)^{2}, which is 50^{2}  100n + n^{2}. We know that 50^{2} is 2500. So we subtract 100n from 2500, and then add n^{2}. Example, say we want to square 48, which is 50 − 2. We subtract 200 from 2500 and add 4, and get x^{2} = 2304. For numbers larger than 50 (x = 50 + n), add n a hundred times instead of subtracting it.
This method requires the memorization of squares from 1 to 25.
The square of n (most easily calculated when n is between 26 and 75 inclusive) is
In other words, the square of a number is the square of its difference from fifty added to one hundred times the difference of the number and twenty five. For example, to square 62, we have:
This method requires the memorization of squares from 1 to 25.
The square of n (most easily calculated when n is between 76 and 125 inclusive) is
In other words, the square of a number is the square of its difference from one hundred added to the product of one hundred and the difference of one hundred and the product of two and the difference of one hundred and the number. For example, to square 93, we have:
Another way to look at it would be like this:
Another example:
82^{2} = ? (is 18 from 100) 82  18 = 64 (subtract. First digits.) (18)^{2} = 324 (second pair of digits. We'll need to carry the 3.) 82^{2} = 6724
An easy way to approximate the square root of a number is to use the following equation:
The closer the known square is to the unknown, the more accurate the approximation. For instance, to estimate the square root of 15, we could start with the knowledge that the nearest perfect square is 16 (4^{2}).
So the estimated square root of 15 is 3.875. The actual square root of 15 is 3.872983... One thing to note is that, no matter what the original guess was, the estimated answer will always be larger than the actual answer due to the inequality of arithmetic and geometric means. Thus, one should try rounding the estimated answer down.
Note that if n^{2} is the closest perfect square to the desired square x and d = x  n^{2} is their difference, it is more convenient to express this approximation in the form of mixed fraction as . Thus, in the previous example, the square root of 15 is As another example, square root of 41 is while the actual value is 6.4031...
By definition, if r is the square root of x, then
We then redefine the root
where a is a known root (4 from the above example) and b is the difference between the known root and the answer we seek.
Expanding yields
If 'a' is close to the target, 'b' will be a small enough number to render the element of the equation negligible. Thus, we can drop out and rearrange the equation to
and therefore
that can be reduced to
Extracting roots of perfect powers is often practiced. The difficulty of the task does not depend on the number of digits of the perfect power but on the precision, i.e. the number of digits of the root. In addition, it also depends on the order of the root; finding perfect roots, where the order of the root is coprime with 10 are somewhat easier since the digits are scrambled in consistent ways, as we shall see in the next section.
An easy task for the beginner is extracting cube roots from the cubes of 2 digit numbers. For example, given 74088, determine what two digit number, when multiplied by itself once and then multiplied by the number again, yields 74088. One who knows the method will quickly know the answer is 42, as 42^{3} = 74088.
Before learning the procedure, it is required that the performer memorize the cubes of the numbers 110:
1^{3} = 1  2^{3} = 8  3^{3} = 27  4^{3} = 64  5^{3} = 125 
6^{3} = 216  7^{3} = 343  8^{3} = 512  9^{3} = 729  10^{3} = 1000 
Observe that there is a pattern in the rightmost digit: adding and subtracting with 1 or 3. Starting from zero:
There are two steps to extracting the cube root from the cube of a two digit number. Say you are asked to extract the cube root of 29791. Begin by determining the one's place (units) of the two digit number. You know it must be one, since the cube ends in 1, as seen above.
Note that every digit corresponds to itself except for 2, 3, 7 and 8, which are just subtracted from ten to obtain the corresponding digit.
The second step is to determine the first digit of the two digit cube root by looking at the magnitude of the given cube. To do this, remove the last three digits of the given cube (29791 > 29) and find the greatest cube it is greater than (this is where knowing the cubes of numbers 110 is needed). Here, 29 is greater than 1 cubed, greater than 2 cubed, greater than 3 cubed, but not greater than 4 cubed. The greatest cube it is greater than is 3, so the first digit of the two digit cube must be 3.
Therefore, the cube root of 29791 is 31.
Another example:
This process can be extended to find cube roots that are 3 digits long, by using arithmetic modulo 11.^{[4]}
These types of tricks can be used in any root where the order of the root is coprime with 10; thus it fails to work in square root, since the power, 2, divides into 10. 3 does not divide 10, thus cube roots work.
To approximate a common log (to at least one decimal point accuracy), a few log rules, and the memorization of a few logs is required. One must know:
From this information, one can find the log of any number 19.
The first step in approximating the common logarithm is to put the number given in scientific notation. For example, the number 45 in scientific notation is 4.5 × 10^{1}, but we will call it a × 10^{b}. Next, find the log of a, which is between 1 and 10. Start by finding the log of 4, which is .60, and then the log of 5, which is .70 because 4.5 is between these two. Next, and skill at this comes with practice, place a 5 on a logarithmic scale between .6 and .7, somewhere around .653 (NOTE: the actual value of the extra places will always be greater than if it were placed on a regular scale. i.e., you would expect it to go at .650 because it is halfway, but instead it will be a little larger, in this case .653) Once you have obtained the log of a, simply add b to it to get the approximation of the common log. In this case, a + b = .653 + 1 = 1.653. The actual value of log(45) ~ 1.65321.
The same process applies for numbers between 0 and 1. For example, 0.045 would be written as 4.5 × 10^{2}. The only difference is that b is now negative, so when adding you are really subtracting. This would yield the result 0.653  2, or 1.347.
Physical exertion of the proper level can lead to an increase in performance of a mental task, like doing mental calculations, performed afterward.^{[5]} It has been shown that during high levels of physical activity there is a negative effect on mental task performance.^{[6]} This means that too much physical work can decrease accuracy and output of mental math calculations. Physiological measures, specifically EEG, have been shown to be useful in indicating mental workload.^{[7]} Using an EEG as a measure of mental workload after different levels of physical activity can help determine the level of physical exertion that will be the most beneficial to mental performance. Previous work done at Michigan Technological University by Ranjana Mehta includes a recent study that involved participants engaging in concurrent mental and physical tasks.^{[8]} This study investigated the effects of mental demands on physical performance at different levels of physical exertion and ultimately found a decrease in physical performance when mental tasks were completed concurrently, with a more significant effect at the higher level of physical workload. The BrownPeterson procedure is a widely known task using mental arithmetic. This procedure, mostly used in cognitive experiments, suggests mental subtraction is useful in testing the effects maintenance rehearsal can have on how long shortterm memory lasts.
The first Mental Calculations World Championship took place in 1997. This event repeats every year. It consists of a range of different tasks such as: addition of ten tendigit numbers, multiplication of two eightdigit numbers, calculation of square roots, and calculation of weekdays for given dates, calculation of cube roots plus some surprise miscellaneous tasks.
The first World Mental Calculation Championships (Mental Calculation World Cup)^{[9]} took place in 2004. They are repeated every second year. It consists of six different tasks: addition of ten tendigit numbers, multiplication of two eightdigit numbers, calculation of square roots, and calculation of weekdays for given dates, calculation of cube roots plus some surprise miscellaneous tasks.
Memoriad^{[10]} is the first platform combining "mental calculation", "memory" and "photographic reading" competitions. Games and competitions are held in the year of the Olympic games, every four years. The first Memoriad was held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2008. The second Memoriad took place in Antalya, Turkey on 2425 November 2012. 89 competitors from 20 countries participated. Awards and money prizes were given for 10 categories in total; of which 5 categories had to do about Mental Calculation (Mental addition, Mental Multiplication, Mental Square Roots (noninteger), Mental Calendar Dates calculation and Flash Anzan).