Reading the Comics, January 29, 2015: Returned Motifs Edition

I do occasionally worry that my little blog is going to become nothing but a review of mathematics-themed comic strips, especially when Comic Strip Master Command sends out abundant crops like it has the past few weeks. This week’s offerings bring out the return of a lot of familiar motifs, like fighting with word problems and anthropomorphized numbers; and there’s one strip that suggests a pair of articles I wrote a while back might be useful yet.

Bill Amend’s FoxTrot (January 25, and not a rerun) puts out a little word problem, about what grade one needs to get a B in this class, in the sort of passive-aggressive sniping teachers long to get away with. As Paige notes, it really isn’t a geometry problem, although I wonder if there’s a sensible way to represent it as a geometry problem.

Ruben Bolling’s Super-Fun-Pax Comix superstar Chaos Butterfly appears not just in the January 25th installment but also gets a passing mention in Mark Heath’sSpot the Frog (January 29, rerun). Chaos Butterfly in all its forms seems to be popping up a lot lately; I wonder if it’s something in the air.

Hector D Cantu and Carlos Castellanos’s Baldo (January 27) shows Baldo enthusiastic about a particular chain of multiplications, and I can’t say I care for Gracie’s harshing on him. A problem you’re interested in is a good way to learn things, regardless of why you’re interested.

Nate Frakes’s Break of Day (January 27) is an anthropomorphic-numbers joke that Frakes is probably slapping himself for not saving until March 14th.

Bill Schorr’s The Grizzwells (January 27) is another bit of subverting a word problem, though I have to admit it’s a variant on the plane-leaving-New-York problem I don’t remember reading in a long while.

Francesco Marciuliano’s Medium Large (January 28) is Marciuliano’s typical sort of pop culture-referential subversion of number-trivia panels. I think there’s something to be learned from it all.

Hagar teaches Hamlet how to count up to 21.
Chris Browne’s Hagar the Horrible for the 29th of January, 2015.

Chris Browne’s Hagar the Horrible (January 29) is strikingly close to Baldo in its premise, really, and it caused me to wonder just how far back blackjack goes. If Wikipedia’s to be believed the game goes back at least to the time of Cervantes, who was the first to describe it, although the name “blackjack” didn’t become synonymous with “twenty-one” until the 1930s, when Nevada casinos briefly offered a ten-to-one payout for the player drawing an ace of spades and one of the two black jacks (clubs or spades). Blackjack is famous among card games for being kind of winnable, in the long term, if the player is able to keep some track of how many of each value card are still in the deck, so that one can bet more or less depending on how likely the player is to beat the dealer. So it makes a nice example of probability — for each hand — and statistics — for playing the whole game — as well as, yeah, addition.

Last summer my love and I were at the Waldameer amusement park in Erie, Pennsylvania, and they had a neat redemption game similar to Fascination: you rolled balls down a wooden track, scoring points based on which hole the ball falls into, with the objective being to get that glorious 21, or at least some of the interesting possible combinations. It was a fun game, and we played enough rounds to take home a park triangular penant that, yes, we could have got more cheaply from the souvenir shop, but where’s the chance to roll balls down wooden tracks in that?

Richard Thompson’s Richard’s Poor Almanac (January 29) sees the return of the typing monkey, although in this case the monkey isn’t specifically being tasked with the problem of producing a copy of Shakespeare.

Of this set of comics, I have to credit Hagar the Horrible for teaching me the most. But Medium Large gave me the funniest moment since, like most people, I don’t actually know whether Dick and Jane books even actually exist or if we just tell jokes about what we imagine them to be.


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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