Reading the Comics, September 7, 2019: Dinosaur Follow-Up Edition


One thing to worry about during an A To Z sequence is how busy Comic Strip Master Command will decide I need to be. I’m glad to say that this first week, it wasn’t too overly busy. Even the comic strips that are most on topic are not ones that need too much explanation. They’re also all reruns from their original publication, although I don’t know the dates that any of these first ran. A casual search doesn’t find that I said anything about these in their previous appearances.

Mac King and Bill King’s Magic in a Minute for the 1st is a rerun printed without the editor reading the thing. If they had, they’d have edited the 13 to be a 19. As the explanation at the bottom of the page almost makes clear, the ‘magic number’ produced by this will be the last two digits of the current year. After all, your age (at the end of this year) will be this year minus the year of your birth.

Here's a simple card trick to use any elephants you have. Ask a friend to write the last two digits of the year he was born. Below that, write the age he'll be at the end of this year. Have your friend add his age to the year he was born; this will be his lucky number. Place a deck of cards on a table and tell your friend to deal out a number of cards equal to his lucky number. If his number has three digits, just use the last two. Instruct your friend to look at the last card he deals out, to not show it to you, but to close his eyes and concentrate on it. While your friend's eyes are closed, bring in your elephant in a blanket displaying the card he chose! He'll be impressed! (The secret is this will always be the same number: the last two digits of the current year, so, before you start place the card you want in the right spot and 'reveal' that.)
Mac King and Bill King’s Magic in a Minute for the 1st of September, 2019. Cute little arithmetic, logic, and related mathematical puzzles from Other appearances by Magic In A Minute should be behind this link.

That this can be used for a magic trick relies on two things. One is that while, yes, anyone who thinks about it sees the relationship between their birth year, their age, and the current year, the magic trick is done before they can do that thinking. They’re too busy calculating, and then counting out cards and trying to see where this is going. Calculating without thinking about why this calculation is dangerous for mathematics. But it allows for some recreational fun. the other thing this trick depends on is showmanship: the purpose of the calculation is meant to be surprising enough, and delightful enough, that people won’t care to deconstruct its logic.

Oliver: 'Here's a math quiz for you, Mikki. If I gave you three jelly beans and George gave you five jelly beans, how many jelly beans would you have?' Mikke: 'Eleven jelly beans, Oliver.' Oliver: 'Wrong! The answer is eight!' Mikki: 'No, it's eleven. I already have three jelly beans.'
Morrie Turner’s Wee Pals rerun for the 1st of September, 2019. Essays inspired by a refusal of any of the Wee Pals to do word problems should appear at this link.

Morrie Turner’s Wee Pals rerun for the 1st is your basic joke about the kid subverting a word problem. But it also shows a bit why mathematicians get trained to make as explicit as possible their assumptions. This saves us from dumb mistakes, but at the cost of putting a prologue to anything we do want to ask. But it’s a legitimate part of mathematics to look at the questions someone else has asked and find their unstated assumptions, the things that could be true and would make their claims wrong.

Trouble 4 Utahraptor comics! T-Rex: 'Oh no! Is Utahraptor in trouble again? Has trouble finally come ... for Utahraptor? What can we do, Dromiceiomius?' Dromiceiomimus: 'I imagine the first step is to ascertain what kind of trouble he's in!' Utahraptor: 'You called, T-Rex?' 'I heard you're in trouble!' 'I am! It seems I get into trouble five times a week, but luckily I've got great pals to help me out!' T-Rex: 'That's me!' Utahraptor: 'Yes, so here's my trouble. I have 12 identical balls, but one is EITHER heavier or lighter than the rest, and I've got a balance scale that measures relative weight.' 'This sounds complicated!' 'And I can only use the scale 3 times to find out which ball is different!' 'T-Rex: I'm going home okay.'
Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics rerun for the 2nd of September, 2019. There are a good number of Dinosaur Comics discussed in essays here.

Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics rerun for the 2nd presents Utahraptor struggling with a mathematics problem. This is in character for him and for the comic. The particular problem is a classic recreational mathematics puzzle. Given a balance that can only give relative weights, and that you can use up to three times, find the one ball out of twelve which is of a different weight. It’s also a classic information theory problem. We know we can solve it, though. Each weighing gives us information about which of the twelve balls might, or might not, be abnormal. There is enough information in these three weighings to pick out which ball is the unusual one.

Granted, though, just knowing three weighings are enough doesn’t tell us what to weigh, or in what order. I haven’t looked at the GoComics comments. But there are likely at least three people who’ve explained some way to do it. It’s worth playing with the problem a while to see if you have any good ideas. You can use coins if you want to play with possibilities.

T-Rex: 'The best words MIGHT be autological words, you guys! These are words that describe something that also describes the word itself! For example, the word 'short' is itself short, and the word 'multisyllabic' has more than one syllable in it!' Dromiceiomius: 'And the word 'understandable' is itself understandable, so it's autological too!' T-Rex: 'Just like '2oig3nt2as2y' which is a word I just made up that means 'annoying to say'!' Utahraptor: 'There's the opposite too, heterological words that don't describe themselves, like 'long'!' T-Rex: 'Neat!' Utahraptor: 'So is 'heterological' heterological?' T-Rex: 'Well, if it IS then it's self-describing, which means autological. And if it ISN'T, then it's autological again too. Huh. If this paradox is supposed to make me trip balls, you should know I've taken the precaution of having them TIGHTLY SECURED.' Later. Utahraptor: 'Hey, who put all my balls in the closet? And then tied the closet handle shut and attached a note 'NEVER AGAIN'?' T-Rex: 'Sir, calm down! You can thank me whenever!!'
Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics rerun for the 6th of September, 2019. There are an equal number of Dinosaur Comics discussed in essays here.

Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics rerun for the 6th is, as the last panels suggest, a sequel to a comic rerun in mid-August. The question of whether the word ‘heterological’ is itself heterological is a recasting of one of Eubulides’s paradoxes. It’s the problem of working out whether a self-referential statement can be true. Or false. It shouldn’t surprise us that common language statements can defy being called true or false. But definitions are so close to logical structures that it’s hard to see why these refuse to fit. The problem is silly, but why it’s silly is hard to say.


There were also comics so casual in their mention of mathematics that I don’t have essays to write about them. I’ll list those soon, all going well, at this link. And then Tuesday, I hope, resume the Fall 2019 A-to-Z Sequence. 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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