Reading the Comics, September 21, 2013

It must have been the summer vacation making comic strip artists take time off from mathematics-themed jokes: there’s a fresh batch of them a mere ten days after my last roundup.

John Zakour and Scott Roberts’s Maria’s Day (September 12) tells the basic “not understanding fractions” joke. I suspect that Zakour and Roberts — who’re pretty well-steeped in nerd culture, as their panel strip Working Daze shows — were summoning one of those warmly familiar old jokes. Well, Sydney Harris got away with the same punch line; why not them?

Brett Koth’s Diamond Lil (September 14) also mentions fractions, but as an example of one of those inexplicably complicated mathematics things that’ll haunt you rather than be useful or interesting or even understandable. I choose not to be offended by this insult of my preferred profession and won’t even point out that Koth totally redrew the panel three times over so it’s not a static shot of immobile talking heads.

Tom Thaves’s Frank and Earnest (September 15) does a bit of an historical mathematical (and journalistic) joke about the creation of calendars. Calendars have a long connection with mathematics — surprisingly deep, considering that you might initially figure that a calendar is just a matter of counting how many days have gone by. And calendars could be, but, people don’t just want calendars to know how many days have gone by, but also to use them to schedule things, and particularly, to schedule them relative to the seasons. So the story of calendars becomes tied up with astronomy, and with politics and religion, and navigation and accounting. It’s one of the fields of mathematics most wonderfully steeped in humanity.

Eric Scott’s Back In The Day (September 16) tells a weather-probability joke that teases the fourth wall, too.

Mike Twohy’s That’s Life (September 16) does a panel captioned “Sports Math”, and while there is abundant mathematics to use in studying sports — I’m aware how susceptible I am to the obsessive-statistics-keeping of SABRmetric study of baseball — this just uses the form of word problems to do a joke about how professional athletes get paid a lot of money, like some whole enormous industry revolved around them or something.

Gene Weingarten, Dan Weingarten, and David Clark’s Barney and Clyde (September 20) apparently decided it didn’t get enough attention from me last time for its use of Venn diagrams, so it’s back for another round. As one of the commenters on notes, the lack of intersection between “things that interest Cynthia” and “things Ms Lanham is talking about” can’t be as small as depicted, since Cynthia is interested enough in the subject to be drawing snarky doodles about it.

Brian Basset’s Red and Rover (September 20) mentions Donald in Mathmagic Land, with Red being inspired not so much to be a mathematician by the video. This isn’t the first time Red and Rover have had Donald in Mathmagic Land in class.

Rick DeTorie’s One Big Happy (September 20) recasts one of Zeno’s paradoxes — Achilles and the tortoise — in the guise of a time-out for Ruthie. Obviously, if Ruthie were more familiar with the conditions under which geometric series converge she wouldn’t be afraid of her punishment stretching out to all eternity, but I think we can agree it’s never really too soon to start pondering the details of infinity and where it seems to conflict with common sense. (Rick Detorie has a One Big Happy site at, but that reruns strips that are several years old, as Detorie — fairly, I think — wants to preserve the value of the higher-paying newspaper prints. So newspapers’ daily sites will have a different strip than has. Since I like the comic strip this is a bonus, to me; but it does mean there won’t be a stable URL to point to for a couple of years.)

And to wrap up Greg Evans’s Luann Againn (September 21) which reruns 28-year-old Luann strips, has a resisting-the-word-problem question that I think’s fun enough working out in my head.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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