For this, the second of my Reading the Comics postings with all the comics images included, I’ve found reason to share some old and traditional mathematicians’ jokes. I’m not sure how this happened, but sometimes it just does.

Zach Weinersmith’s **Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal** for the 18th brings to mind a traditional mathematics joke. A dairy hires a mathematician to improve operations. She tours the place, inspecting the cows and their feeding and the milking machines. She speaks with the workers. She interviews veterinarians. She talks with the truckers who haul out milk. She interviews the clients. Finally she starts to work on a model of better milk production. The first line: “Assume a spherical cow.”

One big field of mathematics is model-building. When doing that you have to think about the thing you model. It’s hard. You have to throw away all the complicating stuff that makes your questions too hard to answer. But you can’t throw away all the complicating stuff or you have a boring question to answer. Depending on what kinds of things you want to know, you’ll need different models. For example, for some atmosphere problems you’ll do fine if you assume the air has no viscosity. For others that’s a stupid assumption. For some you can ignore that the planet rotates and is heated on one side by the sun. For some you don’t dare do that. And so on. The simplifications you can make aren’t always obvious. Sometimes you can ignore big stuff; a satellite’s orbit, for example, can be treated well by pretending that the whole universe except for the Earth doesn’t exist. Depends what you’re looking for. If the universe were homogenous enough, it would all be at the same temperature. Is that useful to your question? That’s the trick.

Mark Anderson’s **Andertoons** for the 20th is the Mark Anderson’s **Andertoons** for this essay. It’s just a student trying to distract the issue from fractions. I suppose mathematics was chosen for the blackboard problem because if it were, say, a history or an English or a science question someone would think that was part of the joke and be misled. Fractions, though, those have the signifier of “the thing we’d rather not talk about”.

Daniel Beyer’s **Long Story Short** for the 21st is a mathematicians-mindset sort of joke. Let me offer another. I went to my love’s college reunion. On the mathematics floor of the new sciences building the dry riser was labelled as “N Bourbaki”. Let me explain why is a correctly-formed and therefore very funny mathematics joke. “Nicolas Bourbaki” was the pseudonym used by the mathematical equivalent of an artist’s commune, in France, through several decades of the mid-20th century. Their goal was setting mathematics on a rigorous and intuition-free basis, the way mathematicians sometimes like to pretend it is. Bourbaki’s influential nonexistence lead to various amusing-for-academia problems and you can see why a fake office is appropriately named so, then. (This is the first time I’ve tagged this strip, looks like.)

Harley Schwadron’s **9 to 5** for the 21st is a name-drop of Einstein’s famous equation as a power tie. I must agree this meets the literal specification of a power tie since, you know, c^{2} is in it. Probably something more explicitly about powers wouldn’t communicate as well. Possibly Fermat’s Last Theorem, although I’m not sure that would fit and be legible on the tie as drawn.

Mark Pett’s **Lucky Cow** rerun for the 21st has the generally inept Neil work out a geometry problem in his head. The challenge is having a good intuitive model for what the relationship between the shapes should be. I’m relieved to say that Neil is correct, to the number of decimal places given. I’m relieved because I’ve spent embarrassingly long at this. My trouble was missing, *twice over,* that the question gave diameters instead of radiuses. Pfaugh. Saving me was just getting answers that were clearly crazy, including at one point 21 ^{1}/_{3}.

Zach Weinersmith, Chris Jones and James Ashby’s **Snowflakes** for the 21st mentions Euler’s Theorem in the first panel. Trouble with saying “Euler’s Theorem” is that Euler had something like 82 trillion theorems. If you ever have to bluff your way through a conversation with a mathematician mention “Euler’s Theorem”. You’ll probably have said something on point, if closer to the basics of the problem than people figured. But the given equation — — is a good bet for “*the*” Euler’s Theorem. It’s a true equation, and it ties together a lot of interesting stuff about complex-valued numbers. It’s the way mathematicians tie together exponentials and simple harmonic motion. It makes *so* much stuff easier to work with. It would not be one of the things presented in a **Distinctly Useless Mathematics** text. But it would be mentioned along the way to something fascinating and useless. It turns up everywhere. (This is another strip I’m tagging for the first time.)

Wulff and Morgenthaler’s **WuMo** for the 21st uses excessively complicated mathematics stuff as a way to signify intelligence. Also to name-drop Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a signifier of intelligence. (My grad school was Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which would totally be MIT’s rival school if we had enough self-esteem to stand up to MIT. Well, on a good day we can say snarky stuff about the Rochester Institute of Technology if we don’t think they’re listening.) Putting the “Sigma” in makes the problem literally nonsense, since “Sigma” doesn’t signify any particular number. The rest are particular numbers, though. π/2 times 4 is just 2π, a bit more than 6.28. That’s a weird number of apples to have but it’s perfectly legitimate a number. The square root of the cosine of 68 … ugh. Well, assuming this is 68 as in radians I don’t have any real idea what that would be either. If this is 68 degrees, then I do know, actually; the cosine of 68 degrees is a little smaller than ½. But mathematicians are trained to suspect degrees in trig functions, going instead for radians.

Well, hm. 68 would be between 11 times 2π and 12 times 2π. I think that’s just a little more than 11 times 2π. Oh, maybe it is something like ½. Let me check with an actual calculator. Huh. It *is* a little more than 0.440. Well, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot. Anyway the square root of that is a little more than 0.663. So you’d be left with about five and a half apples. Never mind this Sigma stuff. (A little over 5.619, to be exact.)

Im not sure if you would consider this as mathematics or much of a joke–but since I copped it from a “Our Boarding House” comic I know it qualifys as old anyway… How do you double the size of a 20 foot square rug, by only cutting it? Answer: (Printed upside down) Invite 10 couples over to dance(aka cut a rug) and you add 20 feet.

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At this point someone points out to Major Hoople that it would take five couples to make 20 feet.And the two argue the point for what is assumed to be the rest of the night. (In the 40s this was killer material, trust me)

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I’ll agree it doesn’t seem like fresh material now, but people getting confused about the starting point and proceeding to talk right past each other for hours on end is a custom still with us. We’ve just made that part of the standards-establishment process instead of a source of public comedy.

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Heh. Well, I’ll count it as enough of a mathematics joke. Old-fashioned but I’m tickled.

Probably there’s some Banach-Tarski paradox that would let literally cutting the rug double its area too, which is why they stopped inviting mathematicians over to these parties back in the 20s.

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I have written three comments under two different topics and have had all of them marked as ‘in moderation’. As this hasn’t happenend to me before — I apologize if I triggered some mod-bot or am being “punished” for writing too much or too often or too inanely. On the other hand, if this is an April Fool joke, I offer my congrats, you got me, congrats on being the first to do so yet this year.

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This is … strange and I don’t know why WordPress put comments under moderation. It’s supposed to be set just to hold comments that come from first-time commenters, or ones that have excessively many links in the comment (I think I’d set the threshold to three), and obviously neither of those applies. I wonder if some file at WordPress Master Command got muddied up somewhere. Shall check whether other commenters are getting filtered or blocked altogether.

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Seems to be working now, just left a note in the comments for the Betty Boop/Kitty From Kansas City short, just in case that one doesn’t stick, I just asked about the origin of the cartoon trope of someone or something counting to three as someone drowns.

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