Reading the Comics, June 30, 2015: Fumigating The Theater Edition

One of my favorite ever episodes of The Muppet Show when I was a kid had the premise the Muppet Theater was being fumigated and so they had to put on a show from the train station instead. (It was the Loretta Lynn episode, third season, number eight.) I loved seeing them try to carry on as normal when not a single thing was as it should be. Since then — probably before, too, but I don’t remember that — I’ve loved seeing stuff trying to carry on in adverse circumstances.

Why this is mentioned here is that Sunday night my computer had a nasty freeze and some video card mishaps. I discovered that my early-2011 MacBook Pro might be among those recalled earlier this year for a service glitch. My computer is in for what I hope is a simple, free, and quick repair. But obviously I’m not at my best right now. I might be even longer than usual answering people and goodness knows how the statistics survey of June will go.

Anyway. Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott’s Baby Blues (June 26) is a joke about motivating kids to do mathematics. And about how you can’t do mathematics over summer vacation.

Mom offers to buy three candy bars at 45 cents each if Hammie can say how much that'll be. 'It's summer, Mom! You can't mix candy and math!'
Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott’s Baby Blues for the 26th of June, 2015.

Ruben Bolling’s Tom The Dancing Bug (June 26) features a return appearance of Chaos Butterfly. Chaos Butterfly does what Chaos Butterfly does best.

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts Begins (June 26; actually just the Peanuts of March 23, 1951) uses arithmetic as a test of smartness. And as an example of something impractical.

Alex Hallatt’s Arctic Circle (June 28) is a riff on the Good Will Hunting premise. That movie’s particular premise — the janitor solves an impossible problem left on the board — is, so far as I know, something that hasn’t happened. But it’s not impossible. Training will help one develop reasoning ability. Training will provide context and definitions and models to work from. But that’s not essential. All that’s essential is the ability to reason. Everyone has that ability; everyone can do mathematics. Someone coming from outside the academy could do first-rate work. However, I’d bet on the person with the advanced degree in mathematics. There is value in training.

The penguin-janitor offers a solution to the unsolved mathematics problem on the blackboard. It's a smiley face. It wasn't what they were looking for.
Alex Hallatt’s Arctic Circle for the 28th of June, 2015.

But as many note, the Good Will Hunting premise has got a kernel of truth in it. In 1939, George Dantzig, a grad student in mathematics at University of California/Berkeley, came in late to class. He didn’t know that two problems on the board were examples of unproven theorems, and assumed them to be homework. So he did them, though he apologized for taking so long to do them. Before you draw too much inspiration from this, though, remember that Dantzig was a graduate student almost ready to start work on a PhD thesis. And the problems were not thought unsolvable, just conjectures not yet proven. Snopes, as ever, provides some explanation of the legend and some of the variant ways the story is told.

Mac King and Bill King’s Magic In A Minute (June 28) shows off a magic trick that you could recast as a permutations problem. If you’ve been studying group theory, and many of my Mathematics A To Z terms have readied you for group theory, you can prove why this trick works.

Guy Gilchrist’s Nancy (June 28) carries on Baby Blues‘s theme of mathematics during summer vacation being simply undoable.

As only fifty percent of the population is happy, and one person is in a great mood, what must the other one be in?
Piers Baker’s Ollie and Quentin for December 28, 2014, and repeated on June 28, 2015.

Piers Baker’s Ollie and Quentin (June 28) is a gambler’s fallacy-themed joke. It was run — on ComicsKingdom, back then — back in December, and I talked some more about it then.

Mike Twohy’s That’s Life (June 28) is about the perils of putting too much attention into mental arithmetic. It’s also about how perilously hypnotic decimals are: if the pitcher had realized “fourteen million over three years” must be “four and two-thirds million per year” he’d surely have been less distracted.


Author: Joseph Nebus

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

18 thoughts on “Reading the Comics, June 30, 2015: Fumigating The Theater Edition”

    1. Well, the 50 percent thing is a tricky point. I mean, all probabilities are tricky; that’s why you should never, ever, ever trust your instinctive response to a probability question. But applying a probability is even more tricky. I imagine that’s because we have a feeling for how things “ought” to be, but they never actually are that way. It’s very hard to feel confident in the application of something when every example seems wrong in one way or another.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s it exactly! Took me a while to grasp that you can toss a coin 99 times and get 99 Heads in a row, but that still doesn’t mean that the next toss will be Tails; probably more likely the coin is weighted! ;) Still, as you say, it is hard to ignore your instinct on an outcome.


        1. At 99 heads in a row I’d certainly bet on the coin being weighted.

          Still, yeah; I forget where (possibly one of John D Cook’s Twitter feeds) I saw the warning from. But it’s good to remember that there are entire fields of psychology dedicated to studying how bad people’s intuitive feeling for probability problems are.

          Liked by 1 person

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