Reading the Comics, October 25, 2012


As before, this is going to be the comics other than those run through King Features Syndicate, since I haven’t found a solution I like for presenting their mathematics-themed comic strips for discussion. But there haven’t been many this month that I’ve seen either, so I can stick with gocomics.com strips for today at least. (I’m also a little irked that Comics Kingdom’s archives are being shut down — it’s their right, of course, but I don’t like having so many dead links in my old articles.) But on with the strips I have got.

Bill Amend’s FoxTrot (October 14) — a new one, as the strip is still in production on Sundays — looks as if it’s just name-dropping complicated mathematical terms, but that’s because as Amend has learned, putting in real math and science terms gives jokes a strange greater credibility. Heptagons are mildly familiar — they’re seven-sided polygons — but the Poincaré Disk Model of the hyperbolic plane is a little less so. Wolfram’s Mathworld has a wonderful picture of this, suitable for tattoos or just staring at until you’ve hypnotized yourself. It’s meant to represent one of the key non-Euclidean geometries.

How, well, maybe that’s too much to explain while going through the comics. But in a Euclidean geometry, if you draw a line, and then a point not on that line, there’s exactly one line through that point that’s parallel to the original line. In the hyperbolic geometry, there’s more than one line through that point that’s parallel to the original line. It works. Trust me.

Nate Fake’s Break of Day (October 15) tosses off a cute little panel about pi. I suppose someone wanting to be difficult would just recite the digits zero through nine and note that all the numbers in pi are in that set (unless you’re dealing with something other than base ten, which you aren’t, because nobody does). The same gimmick is called up by Bill Amend’s Fox Trot (October 25, rerun), though since the FoxTrot weekday strips are reruns Amend was there sooner. I wouldn’t be so rash as to say he was first.

Rick Detorie’s One Big Happy (October 15, rerun) has a fractions joke. Fine enough, although the comments thread degenerates immediately into whining about the phrase “he gave 110%”. That’s a phrase much, and foolishly, attacked by people who want to prove themselves better than the masses. The claim, which I think represents bad faith on the part of the listener, is that since 100 percent is all there is, it’s impossible to give more than that. But 100 percent would obviously be the full reasonably expected effort, and someone could obviously exceed that.

Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes (October 16, rerun) turns to the literary qualities of not doing math. If Calvin weren’t seven years old I’d take issue with his characterizing one number as being destroyed in the subtraction; a subtraction problem is one description of a number — let’s say, “eight minus four” — and the question is looking for another and hopefully simpler way of describing the same number. Solving arithmetic problems is, in a sense, looking for more accessible ways to name a number.

Bill Amend’s Fox Trot (October 17, rerun) put in some mathematical trash-talking in a strip which was used for the title of one of the comic strip’s collected books.

Larry Wright’s Kit ‘N’ Carlyle (October 17) tosses off a cat with a knowledge of one of mathematics’s important concepts.

Jeff Stahler’s Moderately Confused (October 17) puts up a compass and ruler. This is almost certainly meant to be compass and straightedge — the tools of classical geometric constructions, as per the ancient Greeks — but a straightedge, properly, hasn’t got any markings on it, and can’t have markings. Many geometric constructions which are impossible, using compass and straightedge, literally the abilities to draw circles and straight lines, become easy when you have a ruler or just the ability to mark spots on the straightedge, and that’s considered poor sportsmanship. At least, it’s outside the bounds of the original problem. However, the cartoonist has to express the idea clearly, and an unmarked ruler would baffle the reader. The markings of the ruler make it read clearly.

Jef Mallett’s Frazz (October 21) shows off a typical set of mathematics problems. There’s a joke about deriving the answers from a Magic 8-ball here, but the coloring makes it almost illegible. (In the first panel the answer is “Most Likely”; in the second, “Cannot Predict Now”; the third, “Very Doubtful” and the fourth “It’s Decidedly So”.) Since the answers should have no connection to the questions that’s not a serious impairment, but it did mean when I first read the strip I didn’t realize there were supposed to be answers at all. I figured it was just the preparing of a test, not the grading of one.

John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (October 21, and don’t think that attribution reads weird to me) mentions the Fibonacci Sequence. I consider the Fibonacci Sequence one of pop mathematics’s most overrated things, almost up there with the Golden Ratio (to which the Fibonacci Sequence is connected), but, eh, some people like it. I also suspect that this sequence has appeared in Ripley’s before, as likely also has the bit about the Golden Gate Bridge containing more than 80,000 miles of steel wire in its cables. The idea that the same volume of metal could be a wire 80,000 miles long (taking submitter Dan Paulun at his word) or the cables of the rather shorter bridge span is, in a way, a neat expression about the relationships between the cross-sectional area and the length of a cylinder — as wire or cable can be treated — and the volume. Make the cross-sectional area slender enough and the length can grow amazingly.

Rick Stromoski’s Soup to Nutz (October 21) is maybe marginal for inclusion here, but, it’s sure set up as a neat numbers gimmick and I giggled.

Brian and Ron Boychuk’s Chuckle Brothers (October 24) is also marginal, but, how many jokes about logarithms are you going to see? There’s the one about Noah and the snakes and that about wraps it up.

Jonathan Lemon’s Rabbits Against Magic (October 24) just does the classic logic paradox.

Steve Melcher’s That Is Priceless (October 24) does a little riffing on Newton’s various laws of mechanics in this use of a Pelagio Palagi illustration from 1827. The illustration was, apparently, originally titled Newton’s Discovery of the Refraction of Light, so the comic caption is sensible.

Alex Graham’s Fred Basset (October 25) puts up a mental math problem that I did in about 22 seconds too. In this case, what struck me is that multiplying by twelve is a pain, but, multiplying by twelve divided by two — six — is actually something of a pain too, except that I know seven times six pretty well. And that forty-two is forty plus two.

Steve Breen and Mike Thompson’s Grand Avenue (October 25), which I featured a couple times in September and in August for its work in making mathematics as much of a chore as possible for kids, features grandma insisting that carving triangles into pumpkins is un-creative. There’s nothing wrong with triangles, particularly since they’re well-behaved shapes and you can form any polygon as a combination of triangles. That said, I did carve my pumpkin this year in a pentagon motif (except for the mouth, which was done with 15 straight lines; there just wasn’t a sensible way to make it with five strokes) but not out of any lack of respect for triangles.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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