Reading the Comics, March 14, 2019: Pi Day 2019 Edition


Some weeks there’s an obvious theme. Most weeks there’s not. But mid-March has formed a traditional theme for at least one day. I’m going to excerpt that from the rest of the week’s comics, because I’ve noticed what readership around here is like for stuff tagged “Pi Day” in mid-March. You all can do what you like with your pop-mathematics blogs.

Pi Day seems to have brought out fewer comics than in years past. The ones that were made, among the set I read, were also less on point. There was a lot of actual physical pie involved, too, suggesting the day might be escaping the realm of pop-mathematics silliness straight into pun nobody thinks about. Or maybe cartoonists just didn’t have a fresh angle this year.

John Hambrock’s The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee shows off a nerd kind of mistake. At least one I think of as particularly nerdy. Wanting to calculate is a natural urge, especially for those who do it well. But to calculate the circumference of a pie from its diameter? What is exciting about that? More, does Grandpa recognize what a circumference is? It’s relatively easy to see the diameter of a pie. Area, also. But circumference? I’m not sure people are good at estimating the circumference of things, not by sight. You’d need a tape measure, or a similar flexible ruler, to start with and we don’t see that. Without the chance to measure it himself, Grandpa has to take the circumference (and, for that matter, diameter) at Edison Lee’s word. What would convince Grandpa of anything?

Edison: 'Happy Pi Day, Grandpa.' Grandpa: 'Is that today?' Edison: 'I'll demonstrate Pi by using it to calculate the circumference of this pie. [ He sets a pie on the table and calculates. ] If the diameter is 12 inches and we multiply by pi, which is 3.14, we'll end up with ... [ he looks up ] nothing.' Grandpa, who's already eaten the whole pie: 'Sorry, were you saying something?'
John Hambrock’s The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee for the 14th of March, 2019. This and other essays inspired by Edison Lee can be found at this link.

For example, even if Grandpa accepted that Edison Lee had multiplied one number by 3.14 and gotten another number he might ask: how do we know pi is the same for pies of all sizes? Could a small pie’s circumference be only three times the diameter’s length, while a large pie’s is four times that? Could Edison offer an answer for why 3.14, or some nearby number, is all that interesting?

Hamster, holding up a pie: 'Guess what? It's national pie day!' Capybara: 'It's also my birthday.' Hamster: 'uh ... aand I got you this pie!'
Liz Climo’s Cartoons for the 14th of March, 2019. I haven’t had reason to discuss this comic here before. This and any future essays discussing Liz Climo Cartoons should appear at this new tag.

Liz Climo’s Cartoons is an example of the second kind of strip I mentioned during my introductory paragraphs. While it’s nominally built on Pi Day, any mathematics is gone. It’s just about the pun. And, well, the fun of having a capybara around.

Mark Parisi’s Off The Mark is the most on-topic strip for the day. And the anthropomorphic numerals joke for the day, too. It’s built on there being infinitely many digits to π, which, true enough. There are also infinitely many digits to \frac{1}{3} , mind; they’re just not so interesting a set. π being irrational gives us a never-ending variety of digits. It’s almost certainly normal, too. Any finite string of digits most likely appears infinitely often in this string.

Anthropomorphic 3, holding up a selfie stick; a decimal and the digits 1, 4, 1, 5, 9, 2, etc, all waving hands. 3: 'I don't think I can fit everyone in ... '
Mark Parisi’s Off The Mark for the 14th of March, 2019. The essays inspired by Off The Mark should appear at this link.

We won’t ever know enough digits of π to depict all of them. But we can depict the digits we know, and many different ways. Here’s a 2015 Washington Post article with several pictures representing the digits, including some neat “random walk” ones. In those the digits are used to represent directions and distances for a thing to move, and it represents the number as this curious wispy structure. There’s amazing pictures to be made of this.

Roy, who has a pie tin and mess on his face: 'It's OK, Norm. Kath and I agreed we both deserve to wear gag pies for forgetting what yesterday was.' Norm: 'My gosh, Roy --- you mean you both forgot your anniversary?' Roy: 'Oh, that's not yet. No, we forgot it was Pi day!' Norm: 'I'm officially in over my head ... '
John Zakour and Scott Roberts’s Working Daze for the 15th of March, 2019. And this comic appears often enough. Working Days strips should appear in discussions at this link.

John Zakour and Scott Roberts’s Working Daze for the 15th is built more around the pie pun. I was relieved to see this. The kind of nerd jokes routinely made in Working Daze made me think it was bizarre the comic strip didn’t do a Pi Day joke. They were saving the setup.

Pierpoint, porcupine, to Gunther, bear: 'Heh! Heh! If I baked 13 apple pies and gave you half of them, how many would you have?' Gunther: 'Obviously I'd have all of them.' Pierpoint, dejected: 'Obviously.'
Bill Schorr’s The Grizzwells for the 13th of March, 2019. I’ve had a few chances to mention The Grizzwells and those essays are at this link.

And last, a comic strip that I don’t think was trying to set up a Pi Day joke. But Bill Schorr’s The Grizzwells for the 13th is a routine story problem joke. But that the setup mentions pies? If this ran on the 14th I would feel confident Schorr was going for a Pi Day comic. But it didn’t, so I don’t know if Schorr was going for that or not.


And those are the surprisingly few Pi Day 2019 comic strips. Later this week I should post, at this link, other recent mathematically-themed comic strips. Thanks for reading.

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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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