We’re drawing upon the end of the school year, on the United States calendar. Comic Strip Master Command may have ordered fewer mathematically-themed comic strips to be run. That’s all right. I have plans. I also may need to stop paying attention to the Disney comic strips, reruns of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. I explain why within.
Niklas Eriksson’s Carpe Diem made its first appearance in my pages here on the 16th of May. (It’s been newly introduced to United States comics. I’m sorry, I just can’t read all the syndicated newspaper comic strips in the world for mathematical content. If someone wants to franchise the Reading The Comics idea for a country they like, let’s talk. We can negotiate reasonable terms.) Anyway, it uses the usual string of mathematical symbols to express the idea of a lot of hard mathematical work. The big down-arrow just before superstar equation E = mc2 is authentic enough. Trying to show the chain of thought, or to point out the conclusions one hopes follow from the work done, is a common part of discovering or inventing mathematics.
Mike Peters’s Mother Goose and Grimm (May 17) riffs on that ancient and transparently stupid bit of folklore about the chance of an older woman having a better chance of dying in some improbable manner than of marrying successfully. It’s always been obvious nonsense and people passing along the claim uncritically should be ashamed of themselves. I’ll give Peters a pass since the point is to set up a joke, and joke-setup can get away with a lot. Still.
Marty Links’s Emmy Lou (May 20, originally run the 10th of September, 1958) uses the trope of “bigger numbers are higher mathematics”. And as plays on words that’s fine enough. But mathematicians conclude that bigger numbers aren’t really harder to do arithmetic with than short numbers are. They’re just longer to do, and more tedious. What makes something “higher mathematics” is doing mathematics on more abstract things. Instead of questions about adding numbers, we ask questions about what kinds of things can we make “addition” meaningful on? And what does that tell us about “addition”?
Disney’s Mickey Mouse (May 22) is a rerun, and not just a rerun from the 1950s. I mean they ran this particular strip the 28th of June, 2014. And we know they reran a strip from the 7th of September, 2013, just ten days ago. This indicates they aren’t rerunning their tiny selection of strips in order.
Justin Boyd’s Invisible Bread (May 22) puts forward a Pi Party, which is all quite silly. Since this is Justin Boyd’s Invisible Bread the comic ends with cheery enthusiasm and general silliness. I rate this my favorite of the bunch. Its mix of enthusiasm and silliness appeals to a part of me.
Dan Pavelich’s Just Say Uncle (May 22) reviews some of the stock props of word problems. They are cliched topics, but they are also things easy to visualize. They play the parts of a problem we would like to solve very well. This is why they keep getting cast.
Paul Gilligan and Kory Merritt’s Poptropica (May 22) uses the motif of “computers do a lot of arithmetic”. I suppose literally speaking they do. But it isn’t like twenty times thirty is all that important a calculation to do.
Astounding But True: When I checked the comments last (the evening of the 23rd of May) not one commenter had tossed out a crack about the New Math or the Common Core. This won’t last.
Richard Thompson’s Poor Richard’s Almanac (May 22, rerun) shows how to draw using basic geometric shapes. Of course trapezoids figure into things.
Zach Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (May 23) finally gets back in my pages. It’d been a while. The “Bayesian Drinking Game” described here is basically right. Bayesian methods are ways of working out the probability of something from experimental evidence. Suppose for example you want to know whether a coin is being tossed fairly. And suppose you toss it a hundred times, to see it come up tails ten times. It is possible that a fairly-tossed coin will do that, but it improbable. It would be more probable to suppose that the coin comes up heads much more often than tails, based on this evidence. The process does not ordinarily involve alcohol poisoning.
John Zakour and Scott Roberts’s Maria’s Day (May 24) raises a good point. We introduce division as something which makes numbers smaller, and that’s true enough if we divide one number by something that’s bigger than one. And it’s probably a good thing to start teaching simple cases and then build to more complicated ones. But then if one’s learned the lesson that division makes numbers smaller, “eight divided by one-half” requires overturning experience. And there’s more trouble when we talk about dividing things that don’t work like numbers. But what’s to be done?