Reading the Comics, March 31, 2015: Closing Out March Edition

It’s been another week of Comic Strip Master Command supporting my most popular regular feature around here. As sometimes happens there were so many comics in a row that I can’t catch them all up in a single post. Actually, there were enough just on the 29th of March to justify another Reading The Comics post, but I didn’t want to overload what was already a pretty busy month with more postings. This is a entry, so I’m afraid folks have to click the links to see images. I hope you’ll be all right.

Mason Mastroianni, Mick Mastroianni, and Perri Hart’s B.C. (March 29) is a bit of a geography joke built around the idea that a circle hasn’t got a side. Whether it does or not — besides “inside” and “outside”, source for another joke — requires thinking carefully what you mean by a shape’s side: does it have to be straight? If it can be curved, can it curve so sharply that it looks like it’s a corner? For that matter, can you tell a circle apart from, for example, the chiliagon, a regular polygon with a thousand equal sides? (If you can, then, how about a regular polygon with a million, or a billion, or more equal sides, to the point that you can’t tell the difference?) If you can’t, then how do you know a circle was in the story at all?

Darrin Bell’s Candorville (March 29) reports of a YouTube video in which a couple people aren’t able to work out the word problem “if you go 80 miles per hour, how long does it take you to go 80 miles”? I have not seen the video in question, though I have to admit that’s the sort of obviously straightforward question that would bring out my inner Gracie Allen and search for ridiculous answers. (This, and the fact I know how the presence of cameras induces stupidity in someone who doesn’t figure himself to be an entertainer, is why I don’t tend to decry the collapsing state of human knowledge when I see videos of people giving stupid answers to on-camera questions.)

Richard Thompson’s Poor Richard’s Almanac (March 29, rerun) is maybe a marginal inclusion: it contains a stray reference to chimpanzees typing 120 words per minute, which is near enough the monkeys-at-a-typewriter reference for my purposes. And I’ll take most excuses to point people to Richard Thompson’s comic art; his Cul de Sac was the strongest comic strip to hit the newspapers this century, and Thompson’s contracting of Parkinson’s Disease one of the worst things to happen to the newspaper comic strip genre this century.

John Deering’s Strange Brew (March 29) takes us back to the earliest days of numbers in another caveman-arithmetic strip. It also highlights a curious point of numbers that I’m surprised doesn’t confuse children more (or maybe it does and I just haven’t heard): while 1 is the lowest counting number, “number 1” also has connotations of the highest quality, as in when we talk about the number-one ranked team, or a first-class experience, or a star of the brightest magnitude. (The Ancient Greeks classified the brightest stars as being of the first magnitude; we can discern differences in brightness more precisely, and so have magnitudes that go to zero and negative numbers, the more negative the brighter.)

John Deering and John Newcombe’s Zack Hill (March 29) passes on one of the famous quotes attributed to Paul Dirac, that if there is a god he must be a mathematician. Wikipedia attributes this to a May 1963 Scientific American article wondering about why it is mathematical theories of great beauty but exotic construction seem to describe the world so well: “One can only answer that our present knowledge seems to show that nature is so constructed. We simply have to accept it. One could perhaps describe the situation by saying that God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe. Our feeble attempts at mathematics enable us to understand a bit of the universe, and as we proceed to develop higher and higher mathematics we can hope to understand the universe better”, which would not fit so very well in the comic panel space available.

One of the commenters at asserts that talking about God in the United States will get you fired from your teaching job, which, yeah, is totally a for-real thing that actually for-real happens in the for-real world all the time.

Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County (March 30, rerun) reprints a visually appealing — and rather better in color, which they don’t have, alas — thought experiment of Opus and Oliver Wendell Jones trying to understand the creation of the universe. It’s inspired by scientific “thought experiments”, which might also be considered “mathematics” or “philosophy”: starting from a particular set of starting assumptions, what follows? Do the assumptions match well what we see in the universe? Do the conclusion? A thought experiment won’t typically answer questions — other than by ruling out as obviously implausible some hypothetical construction — but it can often help one better identify good questions to ask.

Bernard Kliban’s Kliban panel (March 30, rerun) shows a conclusion we can draw from a word problem about rates of things. I think this is the funniest of this collection of strips, both in concept and in having a good funny picture.

Samson’s Dark Side of the Horse (March 31) doesn’t want to be overlooked as it brings in another word problem about apples. Everybody has their off days.


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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