Reading the Comics, October 17, 2019: Story Problems Edition


I’m writing this on Thursday, because I’m expecting to be busy Friday and Saturday. It might be a good policy if I planned the deadline for all these Reading the Comics posts to be a couple days before publishing. But it’ll probably ever come to that. I am not yet begun resisting treating this blog like a professional would. Well, what’s been interesting this week so far have been comic strips presenting or about story problems. That’s enough for a theme.

Mac King and Bill King’s Magic in a Minute for the 13th sets out a recreational mathematics puzzle: set twelve things into three bowls so that every bowl has an odd number of things in them. That’s an easy problem to declare impossible, with parity giving us the clue. This comic’s used just that trick before. Possibly the Kings remembered this, and so given answer that plays with what it means to be “in” a bowl.

'I have 3 bowls and 12 bananas. I've challenged Lewis to put the bananas in the bowls so each bowl contains an odd number of bananas. See if you can solve Lewis's dilemma.' One answer: put 5 bananas in the first bowl, 3 bananas in the second, and 4 bananas in the third bowl. Then put the second bowl in the third bowl, so that the third bowl has 7 bananas total.
Mac King and Bill King’s Magic in a Minute for the 13th of October, 2019. Mathematical puzzles from Magic in a Minute are explained at this link.

Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy for the 13th makes the familiar complaint that story problems aren’t “useful”. Perhaps not; she can cut the Gordion knot for most common setups. Well, students aren’t likely to get problems for which there’s no other way to find a solution. I suppose what’s happening is that many mathematical puzzles come from questions like, what’s the least amount of information you need to deduce something? Or what’s an indirect way to find that? Mathematicians are often drawn to questions like this. At least Nancy has found there are problems she’s legitimately interested in, questions about how to do a thing she finds important.

Nancy: 'Word problems are never about anything useful. I don't need to derive when a train's arriving; I can look it up. I don't need to solve a puzzle to guess a friend's age; I can ask them. If the questions were relevant to my life then I'd pay attention --- ' Sluggo: 'Nancy, can I have five of your 32 apples and oranges?' (She's beside a small tower of fruits.) Nancy: 'No, I need at least 15 of each type of fruit to make a pile high enough to hide that I'm napping.'
Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy for the 13th of October, 2019. Essays with some mention of either the current-run or the vintage Nancy are gathered at this link.

Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s vintage Hi and Lois for the 17th has Chip’s new arithmetic book trying to be more relevant. Chip’s still bored by the problem, which chooses to be about foreign aid. (In the 50s and 60s comics discovered it was very funny that the United States would just give money to other countries and not get anything back out of it except maybe their economies staying stable or their countries not going to war too much.)

Lois: 'I see you have a new arithmetic book. Chip: 'Yeah. They revised it so it'd have more meaning for the students of today's world.' Book: 'If the US gave Iran $250 million, Pakistan $600 million, and Italy $1 billion, how much would this increase the national debt of $305 billion?' Chip: 'I'd rather add oranges.'
Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s vintage Hi and Lois for the 17th of October, 2019. It originally ran the 20th of April, 1962. Both current-run and vintage Hi and Lois strips get discussed at this link.

As I say, I write this without looking at Friday’s and Saturday’s comics. If there’s enough of them to discuss I’ll have an essay about them at this link either Monday or Wednesday. One of those days I’ll also list the comics that have some mention of mathematics without being something I can write a full paragraph about. And Tuesday and Thursday should see the Fall 2019 A-to-Z essays again. Thanks for reading.

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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