Comic Strip Master Command apparently really is ordering strips to finish their mathematics jokes before the summer vacation sets in, based on how many we’ve gotten in the past week. I confess this set doesn’t give me so much to write about; it’s more a set of mathematics things getting name-dropped. And there’s always something, isn’t there?

Tom Thaves’s **Frank and Ernest** (June 17) showcases a particularly severe form of math anxiety. I’m sympathetic to people who’re afraid of mathematics, naturally; it’s rotten being denied a big and wonderful and beautiful part of human ingenuity. I don’t know where math anxiety comes from, although I’d imagine a lot of it comes from that mix of doing something you aren’t quite sure you’re doing correctly and being hit too severely with a sense of rejection in the case that you did it wrong. I’d like to think that recreational mathematics puzzles would help overcome that, but I have no evidence that it does, just my hunch that getting to play with numbers and pictures and logic puzzles is good for you.

Russell Myers’ **Broom Hilda** (June 18) taunts the schoolkid Nerwin with the way we “used to do math with our brains instead of calculators”. One hesitates to know too much about the continuity of **Broom Hilda**, but I believe she’s over a thousand years old and so when she was Nerwin’s age they didn’t even have Arabic numerals just yet. I’ll assume there’s some way she’d have been in school then. (Also, given how long **Broom Hilda**‘s been running Nerwin *did* used to be in classes that did mathematics without calculators.)

Chris Brown’s **Hagar the Horrible** (June 19) tries to get itself cut out and put up on the walls of math tutors’ offices. Good luck.

Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’ **Crankshaft** (June 20) spent a couple days this week explaining how he just counts on fingers to do his arithmetic. It’s a curious echo of the storyline several years ago revealing Crankshaft suffered from Backstory Illiteracy, in which we suddenly learned he had gone all his life without knowing how to read. I hesitate to agree with him but, yeah, there’s no shame in counting on your fingers if that does all the mathematics you need to do and you get the answers you want reliably. I don’t know what his long division thing is; if it weren’t for Tom Batiuk writing the comic strip I’d call it whimsy.

Keith Knight’s **The Knight Life** carried on with the story of the personal statistician this week. I think the entry from the 20th is most representative. It’s fine, and fun, to gather all kinds of data about whatever you encounter, but if you aren’t going to study the data and then act on its advice you’re wasting your time. The personal statistician ends up quitting the job.

Steve McGarry’s kid-activity feature **KidTown** (June 22) promotes the idea of numbers as a thing to notice in the newspapers, and includes a couple of activities, one featuring a maze to be navigated by way of multiples of seven. It also has one of those math tricks where you let someone else pick a number, give him a set of mathematical operations to do, and then you can tell them what the result is. It seems to me working out why that scheme works is a good bit of practice for someone learning algebra, and developing your own mathematics trick that works along this line is further good practice.

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I always enjoy the selections of comics, and I like the puzzle, too. Thanks for all the reading, writing, and arithmetic you do for our enjoyment!

I’m quite happy to be of service. And I should point out to readers who didn’t notice I enjoy your factorization puzzles. I’ve been a little over-familiar with Jumble lately so this is a good alternate mental exercise.

Crankshaft thinks that division you do on your fingers when your arm is stretched out to full length counts as “long division.” It’s a play on the word ‘long.’ His companion is humoring him.

Now that you mention the illiteracy thing, it does seem like the author is being very condescending to his elderly character. Maybe he thinks that Crankshaft needs a reason to be so ornery – and ignorance is his reason.

The thing that keeps the strip from being too condescending towards Crankshaft is that Batiuk is pretty condescending to all his characters. But he

hasgot a tendency to impose fresh burdens on his characters and to have them come out of nowhere. I guess the good side is that, for example, Crankshaft’s illiteracy was something he was able to overcome, although that was used to justify a brand-new bit of backstory misery. (In his youth, it transpired, minor-league ballplayer Crankshaft was called up to the Major Leagues, but because he couldn’t read the notice, he never knew.)It’s an interesting balancing act. I suppose if the form can handle the high-intensity drama of superheroes, it can handle backyard tragedy.

Re: Broom Hilda. I’m homeschooling my seven-year-old, who has always loved doing math. (When he was three, he used to set up his bears in rows and teach them addition and subtraction.)

Right now his cirriculum involves subtracting larger numbers, into the thousands. I taught him the proper way to do it on paper and he did ok with it, but he hates having to sit there and go through the steps. He keeps insisting that it’s easier to do it in his mind and that “the brain is more powerful than the pen and paper!”

Despite the unevenness of his logic, I’m having fun using the threat of “paper and pen math” to challenge him to keep doing more mental math. Everytime he taunts me because he didn’t need my “stupid” method and figured it out mentally, I act all crestfallen but secretly I’m cheering him on. I know eventually he will come up against something too big for mental math, but I don’t want to pre-judge where that point will be for him.

It’s always heartening to hear of a kid liking mathematics; thanks for talking about him. I’m impressed at the work involved in keeping him motivated to do arithmetic in his head. It’s a good deal of fun to do that sort of thing mentally, of course, and looks awfully impressive when you’re able to work out, say, 98 times 65 in an instant.

I would imagine it’s good to be in the habit of regularly getting problems just a little too hard to do without paper mixed in to those that can be done in the head.

Good idea.

:)

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