Reading the Comics, August 14, 2015: Name-Dropping Edition

There have been fewer mathematically-themed comic strips than usual the past week, but they have been coming in yet. This week seems to have included a fair number of name-drops of interesting mathematical concepts.

David L Hoyt and Jeff Knurek’s Jumble (August 10) name-drops the abacus. It has got me wondering about how abacuses were made in the pre-industrial age. On the one hand they could in principle be made by anybody who has beads and rods. On the other hand, a skillfully made abacus will make the tool so much more effective. Who made and who sold them? I honestly don’t know.

Mick Mastroianni and Mason Mastroianni’s Dogs of C Kennel (August 11) has Tucker reveal that most of the mathematics he scrawls is just to make his work look harder. I suspect Tucker overdid his performance. My experience is you can get the audience’s eyes to glaze over with much less mathematics on the board.

Leigh Rubin’s Rubes (August 11) mentions chaos theory. It’s not properly speaking a Chaos Butterfly comic strip. But certainly it’s in the vicinity.

Zach Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (August 11) name-drops Banach-Tarski. This is a reference to a famous-in-some-circles theorem, or paradox. The theorem, published in 1924 by Stefan Banach and Alfred Tarski, shows something astounding. It’s possible to take a ball, and disassemble it into a number of pieces. Then, doing nothing more than sliding and rotating the pieces, one can reassemble the pieces to get two balls each with the same volume of the original. If that doesn’t sound ridiculous enough, consider that it’s possible to do this trick by cutting the ball into as few as five pieces. (Four, if you’re willing to exclude the exact center of the original ball.) So you can see why this is called a paradox, and why this joke works for people who know the background.

They’re not mathematical. Well, the third one I could stretch to be mathematical, if I tried, and I might use it if my Reading the Comics post was a little short that week. Only the punch line has a fairly direct mathematical link. The Jumble words don’t tend to be thematically linked. ‘QUERY’ comes up a lot in the puzzles, too.

I find it often helps if you write out the letters of the jumbled word in alphabetical order and then try combinations from there. This destroys accidental patterns (like the appearance of ‘SUN’ in the third word) that might keep you from getting to the real word.

Are the scrambled words mathematical? Because I do this kind of thing a lot, and I could only get the first one ‘Query’??

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They’re not mathematical. Well, the third one I could stretch to be mathematical, if I tried, and I might use it if my Reading the Comics post was a little short that week. Only the punch line has a fairly direct mathematical link. The Jumble words don’t tend to be thematically linked. ‘QUERY’ comes up a lot in the puzzles, too.

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I still haven’t got any of them….

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I find it often helps if you write out the letters of the jumbled word in alphabetical order and then try combinations from there. This destroys accidental patterns (like the appearance of ‘SUN’ in the third word) that might keep you from getting to the real word.

And if that doesn’t help they did print the answers the next day. And if that link’s expired since then there’s the Internet Anagram Server to the rescue.

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