I came across the polynomial f(x) = 2x2 + 3x - 5 during a calculation I was doing a few days ago. I wanted to factor it. Sure, I could have done it the usual way. But I have a better intuition for factoring numbers than I do for factoring polynomials. So I plug in x = 10; then f(10) = 225.225 factors into 9 times 25. Perhaps this reflects a factorization f(x) = g(x) h(x), where g(10) = 9, h(10) = 25.
Indeed, it does: 2x2 + 3x - 5 = (x-1)(2x+5). Of course, this gives a whole family of integer factorizations, plugging in different integers for x.
Of course, this doesn't work in general; consider for example 2x2 + 2x + 5, which doesn't factor at all. And when the trick is spelled out explicitly it seems to be irredeemably flawed -- how did I know to take (x-1)(2x+5), say, and not (x-1)(3x-5)? (More importantly, can this be explained without reference to the original polynomial?) One could perhaps point out that, say, 184 = (8)(23), which is just f(9) = g(9) h(9), and so on; from a family of such facts it might be possible to deduce the polynomial factorization, but at that point it's just not worth the trouble. These sorts of tricks, like jokes, rarely stand up to explanation.