Because there weren’t many math-themed comic strips, that’s why I went so long without an update in my roster of comic strips that mention math subjects. After Mike Peters’s Mother Goose and Grimm put in the start of a binomial expression the comics pages — through King Features Syndicate and gocomics.com — decided to drop the whole subject pretty completely for the rest of May. It picked up a little in June.
Mike Baldwin’s panel comic Cornered on June 6 put up the generic sort of blackboard problem to use as the backdrop for the generic sort of “student doesn’t know why he has to learn stuff” joke. Blackboards in comic strips seem to have math problems almost as much as grocery bags have a piece of French bread and maybe some celery poking out the top, and probably for the same reason: it eliminates all ambiguity about what’s going on even if you don’t read the caption. (I also note that looking at this panel a week later, the coloring looks better than I’d remembered noticing at the time, particularly in the light-green wipe to suggest an erased board.)
Charlie Podrebarac’s Fat Cats is a strip no longer in original production, and I confess I didn’t see what was supposed to be appealing about it when it was in original production. Still, the idea of a number “so large, reciting it would take three weeks!” would give the would-be pop math writer an easy hook into writing about just how incredibly large a googolplex is, or would alternately give someone the challenge of figuring out just how big a number requiring three weeks to say would be, if we make reasonable assumptions about what the number’s made of.
Jef Mallett’s Frazz pulled out a standard long division problem for the 6th of June and a standard pun about polygons for the 7th. There’s not a lot of mathematics content here, but, what the heck, I like to think it confuses the gocomics.com web master to see the occasional bubble of incoming links from me.
Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy did a wise-fool sort of gag here as the oblivious dog Satchel picks π as a number between one and four. And it certainly is. But the scene presented, where a person really asked to pick a whole number between one and four, picks an irrational number instead requires the person being asked to be either ingeniously stupid (as Satchel is) or else to be a mathematics-inclined person who’s chosen to be difficult, possibly in the hopes of no longer being asked to pick numbers between one and four. (I get innocently thrown by that sort of thing because I’m not sure whether the upper and lower bounds can be picked. “Pick a number between 1 and 10” seems to allow 1 and 10 as options, but that between makes me think danger lurks beyond 2 and 9.)
Stephan Pastis’s Pearls Before Swine on June 8 put forth an Algebra I word problem, although without bothering to solve it. When a textbook claims it shows you how mathematics in real life can be used to save you money, they usually mean they’ll have two examples like this per chapter, although they’ll be illustrated with full-color pictures of a gas station and the working out of the problem will have an attractive light blue background with a bold red border.
Kieran Meehan’s Pros and Cons from June 9 does put forth the raw material for a pretty good statistics word problem, something dealing with the probability of an event given another event, and next time I teach a statistics class I may try to make a problem out of it.
And finally for today, Tom Thaves’s Frank and Ernest, which is usually good for some mildly nerdy humor, did a panel based on how many characters are required to represent “eight” in Arabic versus Roman Numerals, which is about correct for Frank and Ernest. It also set off an argument in the comments thread over there about, for example, why one couldn’t use “IIX” to represent “eight”. I can’t give any compelling reason other than that I’ve never seen that sort of additive-and-subtractive notation except in people trying to figure out rules for Roman Numerals that the Romans themselves might never have suspected to exist.