# Reading the Comics, October 2, 2018: Frazz Loves Mathematics Edition

Jef Mallet’s Frazz did its best to take over my entire Reading-the-Comics bit this week. I won’t disrespect his efforts, especially as I take the viewpoint of the strip to be that arithmetic is a good thing to learn. Meanwhile let me offer another mention of Playful Mathematics Education Blog Carnival #121, hosted here last week. And to point out the Fall 2018 Mathematics A To Z continues this week with the letters ‘E’ and ‘F’. And I’m still looking for topics to discuss for select letters between H and M yet.

Sandra Bell-Lundy’s Between Friends for the 1st is a Venn Diagram joke to start off the week. The form looks wrong, though. This can fool the reader into thinking the cartoonist messed up the illustration. Here’s why. The point of a Venn Diagram is to show the two or more groups of things and identify what they have in common. It is true that any life will have regrets about things done. And regrets about things not done. But what are the things that one both ‘did do’ and ‘didn’t do’? Unless you accept the weasel-wording of “did halfheartedly”, there is nothing that one both did and did not.

And here is where I will argue Bell-Lundy did this right. The overlap of things one ‘did do’ and ‘didn’t do’ must be empty. Do not be fooled by there being area in common in the overlap. One thing Venn Diagrams help us establish are the different kinds of things we are studying, and to work out whether that kind of thing can have any examples. And if the set of things in your life that you regret is empty — well! Is it not “living your best life”, as the caption advances, to have nothing one regrets doing, and nothing one regrets not doing? Thus I say to you the jury of readers, Sandra Bell-Lundy has correctly used the Venn Diagram form to make a “No Regrets” art.

That said, I can’t explain why the protagonist on the left is slumping and looking depressed. I suppose we have to take that she hasn’t lived her best life, but does have information about what might have been.

Jeff Mallet’s Frazz for the 1st starts a string of mathematics class jokes. Here is one about story problems, particularly ones about pricing apples and groups of apples. I don’t know whether apples are used as story problem examples. They seem like good example objects. They’re reasonably familiar. A person can have up to several dozen of them without it being ridiculously many. (Count a half-bushel of apples sometime.) You can imagine dividing them among people or tasks. You can even imagine halving and quartering them without getting ridiculous. Great set of traits. But the kid has overlooked that if Mrs Olsen wanted the price of an apple she would just look at the price sign.

(Every time I’m at the market I mean to check the apple prices, and I do, and I forget the total on the way out. I mention because I live in the same area as Jef Mallet. So there is a small but not-ridiculous chance he and I have bought apples from the same place. If he has a strip mentioning the place with the free coffee, popcorn, and gelato samples I’ll know to my satisfaction.)

Jeff Mallet’s Frazz for the 2nd has a complaint about having to show one’s work. But as with apple prices, we don’t really care whether someone has the right answer. We care whether they have the right method for finding an answer. Or, better, whether they have a method that could plausibly find the right answer, and an idea of how to check whether they did get it. This is why it’s worth, for example, working out a rough expected answer before doing a final calculation.

The talk about flight paths reminds me of a story passed around sci.space.history back in the day. The story is about development of the automatic landing computers used for the Apollo Missions. The guidance computers were programmed to get the lunar module from this starting point to a final point on the lunar surface. This turns into a question of polynomial interpolation. That’s coming up with a curve that fits some data points, particularly, the positions and velocities the last couple times those were known plus the intended landing position. You can always find a polynomial that passes smoothly through a finite bunch of data points. That’s not hard. But, allegedly, the guidance computer would project paths where the height above the lunar surface was negative for a while. Numerically, there’s nothing wrong with a negative number. It’s just got some practical problems, as the earliest Apollo missions were before any subway tunnels could be built.

Jeff Mallet’s Frazz for the 3rd continues the protest against showing one’s work. I do like the analogy of arithmetic skills for mathematics being like spelling skills for writing. You can carry on without these skills, for either mathematics or writing. But knowing them makes your life easier. And enjoying these building-block units foreshadows enjoying the whole. But yeah, addition and multiplication tables can look like tedium if you don’t find something at least a little thrilling in how, say, 9 times 7 is 63.

Tim Lachowski’s Get a Life for the 2nd is a bit of mathematics wordplay. So that closes the essay out well.

Thanks for reading Reading the Comics. Other comic strip review essays are at this link. More essays with Between Friends should be at this link. Other essays with Frazz in them are at this link. And appearances by Get A Life should be at this link.

## Author: Joseph Nebus

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

## 9 thoughts on “Reading the Comics, October 2, 2018: Frazz Loves Mathematics Edition”

1. I think we’ll try spelling-writing to arithmetic-algebra in my intermediate algebra class. At the least, it’ll get them thinking about doing math is like writing. I think arithmetic is worth thinking about by itself, but maybe people feel that way about spelling? Etymologists?

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1. That’s a good spinoff question, really. I like spelling myself, possibly because I like that English system where there are a lot of rules, but also a lot of exceptions, and most of the exceptions themselves follow patterns, but there’s still craggy little weird bits. I think it’s fascinating, but I don’t know if etymologists see it as interesting in itself or whether it’s just interesting because of what it teaches us about how words and their uses have changed in time.

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2. Next time you meet Mr Mallet at the apple stand, ask him to autograph an apple, then you can compare the prices of autographed vs. nonautographed apples.

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1. I just hope that I can recognize him if he’s not in biking outfit, what with the winter months coming in and everybody dressing in a great puffy cloud of jacket.

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3. Ha, I suppose the Venn diagram makes sense if you read all the words, ie, regret did do, regret didn’t do – though that’s probably a word not math solution?

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1. I’d put it more as a logic puzzle, which people usually accept under mathematics. Philosophy also gets ownership of logic puzzles, of course. The thing that gets me about this strip is that it makes sense when you first look at it, and then at second glance doesn’t quite make sense (how can there be anything in the intersection of ‘did do’ and ‘didn’t do’?), and then finally comes back around to making sense again. My hunch is that the strip wasn’t meant to need that much parsing, and it was just supposed to be amusing enough at first glance. But it is one of those comics I’m a little sorry to not know more about the creative process behind.

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1. That’s a balanced and convincing assessment, Joseph, Perhaps an answer is that we have an equal amount of regret for things we did and didn’t do.

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1. Oh, that’s a good interpretation too. You might have the artist’s original intention with it.

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