Reading the Comics, July 19, 2015: Rerun Comics Edition


I’m stepping my blog back away from the daily posting schedule. It’s fun, but it’s also exhausting. Sometimes, Comic Strip Master Command helps out. It slowed the rate of mathematically-themed comics just enough.

By this post’s title I don’t mean that my post is a rerun. But several of the comics mentioned happen to be. One of the good — maybe best — things about the appearance of comics on Gocomics.com and ComicsKingdom is that comic strips that have ended, such as Randolph Itch, 2 am or (alas) Cul de Sac can still appear without taking up space. And long-running comic strips such as Luann can have earlier strips be seen to a new audience, again without doing any harm to the newest generation of cartoonists. So, there’s that.

Greg Evans’s Luann Againn (July 13, originally run July 13, 1987) makes a joke of Tiffany not understanding the odds of a contest. That’s amusing enough. Estimating the probability of something happening does require estimating how many things are possible, though, and how likely they are relative to one another. Supposing that every entry in a sweepstakes is equally likely to win seems fair enough. Estimating the number of sweepstakes entries is another problem.

Tom Toles’s Randolph Itch, 2 am (July 13, rerun from July 29, 2002) tells a silly little pirates-and-algebra joke. I like this one for the silliness and the artwork. The only sad thing is there wasn’t a natural way to work equations for a circle into it, so there’d be a use for “r”.

Jeff Harris’s Shortcuts kids-information panel for July 13 was all about Isaac Newton. While there’s little here that an adult reader, at least one who’s looking at recreational mathematics blogs, wouldn’t already know, it is after all a kids’ feature. And it helps remind one of how staggeringly much Isaac Newton did. The reference to Newton trying to calculate the weight of Noah’s Ark is the only hint of the considerable time Newton spent on what we’d now consider eccentric to crankish work. We don’t think much about Newton’s alchemy or the time he spent to calculating when the Bible might say the world would end, but these were things he worried about greatly. (Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac rerun for July 19th happens to mention Isaac Newton. But it’s more about identifying a common affliction. I’m pretty sure I have it and I’m not even a father. While it’s not mathematical at all, it’s my favorite of this selection of comics.)

Mark Anderson’s Andertoons gets its scheduled appearance this roundup for the July 16th comic. It’s about the real question inside solid geometry.

Zach Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal gets its scheduled appearance this roundup for its July 17th strip. It’s a fair enough summary of optimization problems, an important field of mathematics. We often want the best we can get despite mutually exclusive, or even contradictory, goals. One approach to doing that is to quantify the things we want, and find a weighted average of these quantities. The weights are based on how important things are, how much they contradict one another, how much one influences another, and so on. Finding the best possible fit is often a hard problem that has to be given to a computer, so it may find an approximately best solution.

Alien contact plus 35 minutes: an alien arguing that 99% of all intelligent life in the cosmos agrees that Grorgulurgian linguistics is the universal language, not mathematics.

Niklas Eriksson’s Carpe Diem for the 18th of July, 2015. I kind of agree with this sentiment.

Niklas Eriksson’s Carpe Diem (July 18) challenges the idea that mathematics is a universal language. I’m inclined to agree with the alien. Mathematical truths may be universal, but the expressions of them are extremely culturally dependent. And the selection of which truths are interesting enough to notice is even more dependent on the time and place of the writer.

Bill Amend’s FoxTrot Classics (July 18, rerun from 2004) has Jason work out how much volume “half a teaspoon” is in the most complex way available. It’s all right. He’s having fun.

And again, please, do let me know what comics you thought strongest or what jokes came in too weak to amuse here. I’m interested in what people think.

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