Reading the Comics, July 14, 2012
I hope everyone’s been well. I was on honeymoon the last several weeks and I’ve finally got back to my home continent and new home so I’ll try to catch up on the mathematics-themed comics first and then plunge into new mathematics content. I’m splitting that up into at least two pieces since the comics assembled into a pretty big pile while I was out. And first, I want to offer the link to the July 2 Willy and Ethel, by Joe Martin, since even though I offered it last time I didn’t have a reasonably permanent URL for it.
On July 3, Gary Wise and Lance Aldrich’s Real Life Adventures — which, though a panel strip, is actually one with continuity focusing on a particular family — did a “motivation to solve word problems” strip.
Bernard Kliban’s (rerun) Kliban rerun from July 4 presented “Primitive Accountants”. Standard histories of mathematics often mention in passing the importance of accounting and bureaucracy in the development of mathematics, particularly in the use of efficient symbols like Arabic numerals, but that’s often just mentioned along the way to exciting controversies like the Girolamo Cardano-Niccolo Targalia conflict over solving polynomials or the Professor Moriarty of mathematical history conflicts, the Newton-Leibniz feud. But there’s important pieces here; for example, many cities in Europe tried to ban Arabic numerals as obviously some kind of trick, probably a cheat, compared to the easy-for-the-layman-to-follow Roman numerals. Those bans fell since the new systems were just so much more powerful, and while I can’t point to popular histories explaining why, it’s pretty hard to see the needs of astronomers and mathematicians overcoming the bans, when the needs of shopkeepers, accountants, and the exchequer would be much more immediately pressing.
Dan Piraro’s Bizarro returns to these pages, with an appearance by flash cards, which I remember having but not really making much use of when I was young. I trust they’re still around, although I did better learning my times tables from Schoolhouse Rock.
Kids’ activity feature Magic In A Minute by Mac and Bill King puts forth a logic puzzle of the self-referential logical system type, which is pretty good stuff for puzzles. Part of the Lewis Carroll book I was reading last month tried addressing the question of when are self-referential logical statements troublesome: everyone knows the logic paradox supposed to result from trying to say whether the statement “this statement is false” is true or not, but there’s no difficulty in the statement “this statement is true”.
And in other kids’ activity features, Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz, by Werner Wejp-Olsen, does a dying-utterance mathematical puzzle, of the sort which makes me wonder if anyone does make a dying-utterance of who’s killing them, and if so, if they actually do set up these intricate codes rather than just start writing out who killed them. Isaac Asimov ran a string of mystery puzzle-stories in the Union Club series altogether too many of which seemed to involve people in their dying breaths coming up with excessively intricate schemes to conceal the identity of their killer; the more popular Black Widowers series rarely touched actual murders but did do a lot of stories in which a complex scheme was whipped up to pass one or two bits of information, and only a few of them felt plausible. I suppose what I’m getting to is that it’s a fun puzzle panel, but I question the plausibility of the storyline. I have this trouble with the mystery-puzzle strips and admit to having more than once disputed the solution of a Slylock Fox panel. I can’t help it.