Reading the Comics, August 27, 2012


I’m also surprised to find it’s been about a month since my last roundup of mathematics-themed comic strips, but that’s about how it worked out. There was a long stretch of not many syndicated comics touching on any subjects at all and then a rush as cartoonists noticed that summer vacation is on the verge of ending. (I understand in some United States school districts it already has ended, but I grew up in a state where school simply never started before Labor Day, so the idea of school in August feels fundamentally implausible.)

Joe Martin’s Willy and Ethel on August 7th put in a “convoluted logic” problem. The two “if” statements aren’t equivalent, of course, but they aren’t opposite either, at least if we’re talking about logical implications.

Jerry Van Amerongen’s often cryptic Ballard Street name-dropped (on August 11th) geometry as a way that inscrutable people might do baffling things together. I’m not convinced anyone likes exams, but there are a good number of geometry puzzles that can be fun to work out as games. I admit I’m not putting forth any examples here.

Dave Blazek’s panel strip Loose Parts from August 14th is the kind of panel that would have really tickled me as a kid, as it asks what happens to numbers you aren’t using anymore. I still think it’s a good joke. (Warning: comment thread contains comments.)

Jef Mallett’s Frazz (August 14) does, as with Willy and Ethel, a spot-the-logical fallacy strip. In this case I think it’s a poorly constructed joke since it takes the reader (this reader, anyway, and if I judged grousing over at the Comics Curmudgeon site accurately) too long to figure out what fallacious argument the kid was forming.

Steve Breen and Mike Thompson’s Grand Avenue (August 17) tries to put forth the notion that mathematics must be studied lest someone become a ditch-digger later in life. I’d be absurd to argue that mathematics isn’t a gloriously useful, widely applicable subject, but it’s bad form to suggest that mathematics is one of your alternative of unpleasant chores. For one, it dismisses completely the idea that mathematics could be enjoyable on its own. The strip carries on the idea of math problems as chore on the 19th, just in case people were enjoying it anyway.

Rob Harrell’s Big Top (August 18, rerun) features word problems, and the trouble of coming up with problems that the students are also interested in. I admit a certain weakness for jokes which involve the phrase “savagely devour”.

Mark Parisi’s Off The Mark (August 18, obviously, a busy day around these parts) does an anthropomorphized-numbers-and-letters bit. As a kid I was unsympathetic to the idea that someone would mix up the letter O and the number 0, particularly in typeface, but I’ve grown to appreciate that avoiding that confusion is a good thing, especially when I’ve needed to enter a serial number, including possibly both letters and numbers, into software. The (at least former) computer standard of a slash through the zero may be a departure from the historic origins of the zero symbol, but if it’s making it easier to work it’s a good development. This isn’t to say I do it myself consistently.

Rick Stromoski’s Soup to Nutz (August 20) puts up a word problem and, as traditional for this sort of setup, gives a student not going along with the question’s premise. Again, a warning, the comments thread contains comments.

Russel Myers’s Broom Hilda (August 21) put up a simple math phobia joke.

Tony Murphy’s It’s All About You (August 21) starts with the question about how you tell what time it is when there are several clocks reading different results. It’s a good question, although the proposed idea of averaging the presented times — not a bad premise, by the way; assuming that each of them is as likely to be wrong early or late and by the same amounts, and that they started from being correctly set, is there a better way to approximate the right time? — is called algebra when it’s really just arithmetic. They do the division wrong, too; if we averaged those four times we’d get 8:04 and a half.

And to wrap it up, David L Hoyt and Jeff Knurek’s Jumble from August 21 put in a nice pun and historical marker commemorating the patenting of William Seward Burroughs’s adding machine. (Burroughs is a grandson of the renowned Beat author, if you wondered. I’m not aware of any familial connection to Edgar Rice Burroughs.)

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