Reading the Comics, June 4, 2014: Intro Algebra Edition

I’m not sure that there is a theme to the most recent mathematically-themed comic strips that I’ve seen, all from GoComics in the past week, but they put me in mind of the stuff encountered in learning algebra, so let’s run with that. It’s either that or I start making these “edition” titles into something absolutely and utterly meaningless, which could be.

Marc Anderson’s Andertoons (May 30) uses the classic setup of a board full of equation to indicate some serious, advanced thinking going on, and then puts in a cute animal twist on things. I don’t believe that the equation signifies anything, but I have to admit I’m not sure. It looks quite plausibly like something which might turn up in quantum mechanics (the “h” and “c” and lambda are awfully suggestive), so if Anderson made it up out of whole cloth he did an admirable job. If he didn’t make it up and someone recognizes it, please, let me know; I’m curious what it might be.

Marc Anderson reappears on the second of June has the classic reluctant student upset with the teacher who knew all along what x was. Knowledge of what x is is probably the source of most jokes about learning algebra, or maybe mathematics overall, and it’s amusing to me anyway that what we really care about is not what x is particularly — we don’t even do ourselves any harm if we call it some other letter, or for that matter an empty box — but learning how to figure out what values in the place of x would make the relationship true.

Jonathan Lemon’s Rabbits Against Magic (May 31) has the one-eyed rabbit Weenus doing miscellaneous arithmetic on the way to punning about things working out. I suppose to get to that punch line you have to either have mathematics or gym class as the topic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lemon’s done a version with those weight-lifting machines on screen. That’s not because I doubt his creativity, just that it’s the logical setup.

Eric Scott’s Back In The Day (June 2) has a pair of dinosaurs wondering about how many stars there are. Astronomy has always inspired mathematics. After one counts the number of stars one gets to wondering, how big the universe could be — Archimedes, classically, estimated the universe was about big enough to hold 1063 grains of sand — or how far away the sun might be — which the Ancient Greeks were able to estimate to the right order of magnitude on geometric grounds — and I imagine that looking deep into the sky can inspire the idea that the infinitely large and the infinitely small are at least things we can try to understand. Trying to count stars is a good start.

Steve Boreman’s Little Dog Lost (June 2) has a stick insect provide the excuse for some geometry puns.

Brian and Ron Boychuk’s The Chuckle Brothers (June 4) has a pie shop gag that I bet the Boychuks are kicking themselves for not having published back in mid-March.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

9 thoughts on “Reading the Comics, June 4, 2014: Intro Algebra Edition”

  1. Of course I try to solve the puzzle – does the equations in the first cartoon mean anything? I confess – it does not ring a bell immediately.

    The dimension of the first term is really ‘energy’ – so there has to be some truth to parts of it.
    But what are these subscripts x,y,z?

    E is typically used to denote constant energy – here it seems to be time-dependent. I first thought it’s some potential varying with time (as the last letter is V – typically potential energy)… but then I saw that E is also in the coefficients on the right-hand side.

    If I ever spot something like this in a physics book I will try to find this post again and post another comment!


    1. Yeah, those are just about the points that stumped me: I could imagine, for example, the symbols having gotten a little confused and the E on the right-hand side of the equation meant to be strength of an electric field, in which case it makes sense to have x and y and z as spatial subscripts, and the E on the left-hand-side energy. This is sloppy, but it seems like the kind of sloppiness that plausibly happens in the middle of working out a problem. The second line, defining E and B again, seems like it’s consistent with that.

      But then I’m not sure why an electric and magnetic field would be measured only in two dimensions while there’s a third, marked by z, in the problem.

      I suppose it’s all nonsense, but it’s awfully good nonsense. If it does turn out to be something I’d love to hear it.


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