Reading the Comics, February 13, 2019: Light Geometry Edition


Comic Strip Master Command decided this would be a light week, with about six comic strips worth discussing. I’ll go into four of them here, and in a day or two wrap up the remainder. There were several strips that didn’t quite rate discussion, and I’ll share those too. I never can be sure what strips will be best taped to someone’s office door.

Alex Hallatt’s Arctic Circle for the 10th was inspired by a tabular iceberg that got some attention in October 2018. It looked surprisingly rectangular. Smoother than we expect natural things to be. My first thought about this strip was to write about crystals. The ways that molecules can fit together may be reflected in how the whole structure looks. And this gets us to studying symmetries.

Ed Penguin 'Did you see the perfectly rectangular iceberg?' Lenny Lemming: 'Yes, but I've seen perfect triangles, rhomboids, and octagons, too.' (Oscar Penguin is startled. He walks over to Frank, who is chiseling out some kind of octagonal prism.) Oscar: 'Ok, Frank, I know I said you needed a hobby ... ' Frank: 'Let's see them explain THIS one with science.'
Alex Hallatt’s Arctic Circle for the 10th of February, 2019. Essays in which I discuss Arctic Circle should be at this link.

But I got to another thought. We’re surprised to see lines in nature. We know what lines are, and understand properties of them pretty well. Even if we don’t specialize in geometry we can understand how we expect them to work. I don’t know how much of this is a cultural artifact: in the western mathematics tradition lines and polygons and circles are taught a lot, and from an early age. My impression is that enough different cultures have similar enough geometries, though. (Are there any societies that don’t seem aware of the Pythagorean Theorem?) So what is it that has got so many people making perfect lines and circles and triangles and squares out of crooked timbers?

Broom Hilda: 'I'm a winner! I won $18 in the lottery!' Gaylord: 'How much did you spend on tickets?' Hilda: '$20.' Gaylord: 'So you're actually a loser!' Hilda: 'Well, I guess you could say that, but I wish you hadn't!'
Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda for the 13th of February, 2019. Essays inspired by Broom Hilda should be gathered at this link.

Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda for the 13th is a lottery joke. Also, really, an accounting joke. Most of the players of a lottery will not win, of course. Nearly none of them will win more than they’ve paid into the lottery. If they didn’t, there would be an official inquiry. So, yes, nearly all people, even those who win money at the lottery, would have had more money if they skipped playing altogether.

Where it becomes an accounting question is how much did Broom Hilda expect to have when the week was through? If she planned to spend $20 on lottery tickets, and got exactly that? It seems snobbish to me to say that’s a dumber way to spend twenty bucks than, say, buying twenty bucks worth of magazines that you’ll throw away in a month would be. Or having dinner at a fast-casual place. Or anything else that you like doing even though it won’t leave you, in the long run, any better off. Has she come out ahead? That depends where she figures she should be.

Caption: Transcendental Eric achieves a higher plane. It shows a shaded, spherical Eric in a three-dimensional space, while below him a square asks some other polygon, 'Where's Eric gone to?'
Eric the Circle for the 13th of February, 2019, this one by Alabama_Al. Appearances by Eric the Circle, whoever the writer, should be at this link.

Eric the Circle for the 13th, this one by Alabama_Al, is a plane- and solid-geometry joke. This gets it a bit more solidly on-topic than usual. But it’s still a strip focused on the connotations of mathematically-connected terms. There’s the metaphorical use of the ‘plane’ as in the thing people perceive as reality. There’s conflation between the idea of a ‘higher plane’ and ‘higher dimensions’. Also somewhere in here is the idea that ‘higher’ and ‘more’ dimensions of space are the same thing. ‘Transcendental’ here is used in the common English sense of surpassing something. ‘Transcendental’ has a mathematical definition too. That one relates to polynomials, because everything in mathematics is about polynomials. And, of course, one of the two numbers we know to be transcendental, and that people have any reason to care about, is π, which turns up all over circles.

Joey: 'Mom, can I have a cookie?' Mom: 'Joey, you had two cookies this morning, three at lunch, and one an hour ago! Now how many is that?' Joey: 'I changed my mind.' (Thinking) 'No cookie is worth a pop quiz in math.'
Larry Wright’s Motley for the 13th of February, 2019. It originally ran in 1988, I believe on the same date. When I have written about Motley the results should appear at this link. In transcribing the strip for the alt-text here I was getting all ready to grumble that I didn’t know the kid’s name, and the strip is so old and minor that nobody has a cast list on it. Then I noticed, oh, yes, Mom says what the kid’s name is.

Larry Wright’s Motley for the 13th riffs on the form of a story problem. Joey’s mother does ask something that seems like a plausible addition problem. I’m a bit surprised he hadn’t counted all the day’s cookies already, but perhaps he doesn’t dwell on past snacks.


This and all my Reading the Comics posts should appear at this link. Thanks for looking at my comments.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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