Reading the Comics, May 15, 2020: Squared Away Edition

The end of last week offered just a few more comic strips, and some pretty casual mathematics content. Let me wrap that up.

Daniel Beyer’s Long Story Short for the 13th has the “math department lavatory” represented as a door labelled . It’s an interesting joke in that it reads successfully, but doesn’t make sense. To match the references to the commonly excreted substances they’d want .

On funny labels, though, I did once visit a mathematics building in which the dry riser had the label N Bourbaki. Nicholas Bourbaki was not a member of that college’s mathematics department, of course. This is why the joke was correctly formed and therefore funny.

Gary Larson’s The Far Side strips for the 14th includes the famous one of Albert Einstein coming so close to working out . The usual derivations for don’t start with that and then explore whether it makes sense, which is what Einstein seems to be doing here. Instead they start from some uncontroversial premises and find that they imply this business. Dimensional analysis would also let you know that, if c is involved, it’s probably to the second power rather than anything else.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine Einstein assuming there must be a relationship between energy and mass, finding one that makes sense, and then finding a reason it’s that rather than something else. That’s a common enough pattern of mathematical discovery. Also, a detail I hadn’t noticed before, is that Einstein tried out , rejected it, and then tried it again. This is also a common pattern of discovery.

Niklas Eriksson’s Carpe Diem for the 15th depicts a couple ancient Greek deep-thinkers. A bit of mathematics, specifically geometry, is used as representative of that deep thinking.