Reading the Comics, April 27, 2015: Anthropomorphic Mathematics Edition


They’re not running at the frantic pace of April 21st, but there’s still been a fair clip of comic strips that mention some kind of mathematical topic. I imagine Comic Strip Master Command wants to be sure to use as many of these jokes up as possible before the (United States) summer vacation sets in.

Dan Thompson’s Brevity (April 23) is a straightforward pun strip. It also shows a correct understanding of how to draw a proper Venn Diagram. And after all why shouldn’t an anthropomorphized Venn Diagram star in movies too?

John Atkinson’sWrong Hands (April 23) gets into more comfortable territory with plain old numbers being anthropomorphized. The 1 is fair to call this a problem. What kind of problem depends on whether you read the x as a multiplication sign or as a variable x. If it’s a multiplication sign then I can’t think of any true statement that can be made from that bundle of symbols. If it’s the variable x then there are surprisingly many problems which could be made, particularly if you’re willing to count something like “x = 718” as a problem. I think that it works out to 24 problems but would accept contrary views. This one ended up being the most interesting to me once I started working out how many problems you could make with just those symbols. There’s a fun question for your combinatorics exam in that.


Moose complains he can't get a break, since he was careful about his spelling and grammar but got no extra credit on his mathematics test anyway.
Henry Scarpelli and Craig Boldman’s Archie rerun the 24th of April, 2015.

Henry Scarpelli and Craig Boldman’s Archie (April 24) sees Moose complaining that his careful spelling and grammar doesn’t help his score on a mathematics test. I’m on Moose’s side. The scrawling of symbols is the most distinctive side of mathematics, but it isn’t the important side. The important side is recognizing things which are interesting, and communicating those things to other people. That is a problem of good writing. I have been sad that I couldn’t compose good short-answer and essay questions for mathematics exams I’ve given.

The requisite appearance by Mark Anderson’s Andertoons came on April 27. The student asks a fair question. Personally I’m made uneasy by the teacher having simplified “3(x + 1) – 2” down to “3x + 1” in a single step. It’s correct, yes, but I can see all sorts of mistakes made from trying to imitate that move. “3x + 3 – 2” would have made me so much more comfortable.

Anthony Blades’s Bewley (April 27) is I believe a rerun, and I think that I’ve even listed it here before. It’s a clever use of the gimmick that made Clever Hans work, at least.

Nate Frakes’s Break of Day (April 27) gives anthropomorphized numerals a pool party just in time for me to decide that’s the theme this week.

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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.

8 thoughts on “Reading the Comics, April 27, 2015: Anthropomorphic Mathematics Edition”

  1. I tried to give props to all my comic people on the weekend by writing a poem about the movie Pink Flamingos no one got it, it’s called Eddy,please tell me you have heard of this movie,otherwise I will crawl back in the corner and suck my dust

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  2. Yes, I agree. Quickly simplifying “3(x + 1) – 2” to “3x + 1” without showing the steps can confuse the students, especially if they are just being introduced to algebra.

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    1. The double simplification is a problem, but I think it’s especially a problem that a 1 appears inside the parenthesis and then on the next line. That is, I think it’d be less confusing if they went from (say) “3(x + 3) – 2” directly to “3x + 7” since there’d be no suggestive-but-false connection between the number in parentheses and the number in the second line.

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  3. “x” looks a lot like a “+” if you roll it a little.
    Students might like Brevity’s Venn diagram strip, so it could be a fun way to refresh their memories.

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    1. You know, I kept wondering whether the x should be considered a + in this case. It makes forming an equation a lot easier. I just feel like if it were meant to be a plus sign, then the character wouldn’t have feet coming out between two legs of the figure. (I hope you follow what I mean.) But the characters could probably roll over, if they wanted.

      I think they use the term “cow tools” to describe the reaction the strip’s set off in me.

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