Reading the Comics, March 25, 2019: Bear Edition


I’m again stepping slightly outside the normal chronological progression of these posts. This is to let me share several days’ worth of Bob Scott’s Bear With Me. It’ll make for cleaner thematic breaks in the week.

Wayno and Piraro’s Bizarro for the 25th is a precision joke. That a proposal might be more than half-baked is reasonable enough. Pinning down its baked-ness to one part in a thousand? Nice gentle absurdity. The panel does showcase two things that connote accuracy, though. Percentages read as confident knowledge: to say something is half-done seems somehow a more uncertain thing than to say something is 50 percent done. And decimal places suggest precision also.

Boss at the Precision Calibration Corporation, chewing out a subordinate: 'Another one of your 64.3 percent-baked proposals, Wilkins?'
Wayno and Piraro’s Bizarro for the 25th of March, 2019. Essays that discuss Bizarro are gathered at this link.

There are different, but not wholly separate, things to value in a measurement. Precision seems like the desirable one. It looks like superior knowledge. But there are other and more important things. One is repeatability: if you measure the same thing again, do you get approximately the same number? If the boss re-read the proposal and judged it to be 24.7 percent baked, would we feel confident in the numbers? And another is whether the measurement corresponds to what we would like to know. The diameter of a person’s head can be measured precisely. And repeatably; the number won’t change very much day to day. But suppose what we really care to know is the person’s intelligence. Does this precision and repeatability matter, given how much intelligence varies for even people of about the same head size?

Amanda, on the phone: 'Hey, Gramps, what's up?' Grandpa: 'I'm watching Wheel of Fortune.' 'How's that going?' 'There's a group of purses on here totalling $2900!! I buy a seven-dollar wallet, and it lasts me ten years!' Amanda ;'So these purses will last them ... [ math ] over four thousand years [*] by your math. That's value.' Grandpa: 'That's almost one thousand dollars per bag, Amanda!' [*]: I think My degree is not in math.
Amanda El-Dweek’s Amanda the Great for the 25th of March, 2019. I had expected this to be a new tag, but no. I’ve mentioned Amanda the Great before, in an essay at this link. Still, it has been a while.

Amanda El-Dweek’s Amanda the Great for the 25th starts from someone watching a game show. That’s a great way to find casual mathematics problems. Often these involve probability questions, and expectation values. That is, what would be the wisest course if you could play this game thousands or millions or billions of times?

This one dodges that, though, as the strip gets to Gramps shocked by the high price of designer women’s purses. And it features a great bit of mental arithmetic on Amanda’s part. A $2900 purse is more than four hundred times the cost of a $7 wallet. The way I spot that is noticing that 29 is awfully close to 28, but more than it. And 2800 divided by 7 is easy: it’s a hundred times 28 divided by 7. Grant the supposition that cost scales with the wallet or purse’s lifespan. Amanda nails it. If we pretend that more precision would help, she’d be forecasting a nearly 4,143-year lifespan for the purses. I admit that seems to me like an over-engineered purse.

Molly, reading homework: 'Farmer Smith has 49 acres of blueberries, and each acre has 179 pounds of blueberries, so how many pounds of blueberries will Farmer Smith harvest?' Bear: '8,771 pounds. That would be 1,710,355 blueberries.' Molly: 'Wow, Bear! How do you know that?' Bear: 'How can you NOT? Blueberries are amazing!'
Bob Scott’s Bear With Me for the 25th of March, 2019. This is also not a new tag, although I thought it might be. Bear With Me essays should appear at this link.

Bob Scott’s Bear With Me for the 25th starts a string of word problem jokes. I like them, not just for liking Bear. I also like the comic motif of the character who’s ordinarily a buffoon but has narrow areas of extreme competence. There was a fun bit on one episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in which Ted Baxter was able to do some complex arithmetic in his head just by imagining there was a dollar sign in front of it, for an example close to this one.

Molly: 'Farmer Brown has 3 crates of carrots and each crate holds 12 pounds of carrots. How many carrots does Farmer Brown have?' Bear: 'I have no idea.' Molly: 'But you solved yesterday's math problem easily.' Bear: 'That problem was about blueberries and this one is about carrots.' Molly: 'So?' Bear: 'I don't like carrots.'
Bob Scott’s Bear With Me for the 26th of March, 2019. The comic strip Bear With Me started its run as Molly And The Bear. The title shifted as, I think, Scott realized the most reliably interesting interactions were between Bear and Molly’s Dad. But Molly isn’t out of the strip either.

Bob Scott’s Bear With Me for the 26th Bear’s arithmetic skills vary with his interest in solving the problem. This is comically exaggerated, yes. It’s something I think is basically true though. I’ve noticed I have an easier time solving problems I’m curious about, for example. I suspect most of us think the sae way, or at least expect people to do so. If we din’t, we wouldn’t worry so about motivating the solving of problems. Molly only has story problems about farmers gathering things because it’s supposed a person would want to know, given this setup, what they might expect to gather.

Molly: 'Bear, what's 4,400 blueberries divided by 2?' Bear: 'What?' Molly: 'Divide 4,400 blueberries by 2.' Bear: 'Why would I want to divide them?!' Molly: 'So you can share them with me!' Bear: 'But you can just go to the store and buy your own. And wow, what a great idea!! Let's go to the store now!!' Molly: 'I hate math.'
Bob Scott’s Bear With Me for the 27th of March, 2019. Peculiar thing is I don’t have any strips tagged as Molly And The Bear, even though the strip runs a lot of reruns and some of those have mathematical content. If I’m searching my own archives correctly that’s just because I didn’t find any old comics with enough mathematical content to discuss here. Curious, that. You’d think Molly would do more word problems, especially given the retro aesthetic Bob Scott’s chosen for the comic strip.

Bob Scott’s Bear With Me for the 27th shows a hazard in making a story too real-world: someone might want to bring in solutions that fall outside the course material. I don’t think that happens much in mathematics. My love teaches philosophy, though, and there is a streak of students who will not accept the premises of a thought experiment. They’ll insist on disproving that the experiment could happen, or stand on solutions that involve breaking the selection of options.


Last week was busy for mathematically-themed comic strips. I’ll have more Reading the Comics posts, at this link, in a couple days. Thanks as always for reading any of these.

Reading the Comics, April 15, 2017: Extended Week Edition


It turns out last Saturday only had the one comic strip that was even remotely on point for me. And it wasn’t very on point either, but since it’s one of the Creators.com strips I’ve got the strip to show. That’s enough for me.

Henry Scarpelli and Craig Boldman’s Archie for the 8th is just about how algebra hurts. Some days I agree.

'Ugh! Achey head! All blocked up! Throbbing! Completely stuffed!' 'Sounds like sinuses!' 'No. Too much algebra!'
Henry Scarpelli and Craig Boldman’s Archie for the 8th of April, 2017. Do you suppose Archie knew that Dilton was listening there, or was he just emoting his fatigue to himself?

Ruben Bolling’s Super-Fun-Pak Comix for the 8th is an installation of They Came From The Third Dimension. “Dimension” is one of those oft-used words that’s come loose of any technical definition. We use it in mathematics all the time, at least once we get into Introduction to Linear Algebra. That’s the course that talks about how blocks of space can be stretched and squashed and twisted into each other. You’d expect this to be a warmup act to geometry, and I guess it’s relevant. But where it really pays off is in studying differential equations and how systems of stuff changes over time. When you get introduced to dimensions in linear algebra they describe degrees of freedom, or how much information you need about a problem to pin down exactly one solution.

It does give mathematicians cause to talk about “dimensions of space”, though, and these are intuitively at least like the two- and three-dimensional spaces that, you know, stuff moves in. That there could be more dimensions of space, ordinarily inaccessible, is an old enough idea we don’t really notice it. Perhaps it’s hidden somewhere too.

Amanda El-Dweek’s Amanda the Great of the 9th started a story with the adult Becky needing to take a mathematics qualification exam. It seems to be prerequisite to enrolling in some new classes. It’s a typical set of mathematics anxiety jokes in the service of a story comic. One might tsk Becky for going through university without ever having a proper mathematics class, but then, I got through university without ever taking a philosophy class that really challenged me. Not that I didn’t take the classes seriously, but that I took stuff like Intro to Logic that I was already conversant in. We all cut corners. It’s a shame not to use chances like that, but there’s always so much to do.

Mark Anderson’s Andertoons for the 10th relieves the worry that Mark Anderson’s Andertoons might not have got in an appearance this week. It’s your common kid at the chalkboard sort of problem, this one a kid with no idea where to put the decimal. As always happens I’m sympathetic. The rules about where to move decimals in this kind of multiplication come out really weird if the last digit, or worse, digits in the product are zeroes.

Mel Henze’s Gentle Creatures is in reruns. The strip from the 10th is part of a story I’m so sure I’ve featured here before that I’m not even going to look up when it aired. But it uses your standard story problem to stand in for science-fiction gadget mathematics calculation.

Dave Blazek’s Loose Parts for the 12th is the natural extension of sleep numbers. Yes, I’m relieved to see Dave Blazek’s Loose Parts around here again too. Feels weird when it’s not.

Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes rerun for the 13th is a resisting-the-story-problem joke. But Calvin resists so very well.

John Deering’s Strange Brew for the 13th is a “math club” joke featuring horses. Oh, it’s a big silly one, but who doesn’t like those too?

Dan Thompson’s Brevity for the 14th is one of the small set of punning jokes you can make using mathematician names. Good for the wall of a mathematics teacher’s classroom.

Shaenon K Garrity and Jefferey C Wells’s Skin Horse for the 14th is set inside a virtual reality game. (This is why there’s talk about duplicating objects.) Within the game, the characters are playing that game where you start with a set number (in this case 20) tokens and take turn removing a couple of them. The “rigged” part of it is that the house can, by perfect play, force a win every time. It’s a bit of game theory that creeps into recreational mathematics books and that I imagine is imprinted in the minds of people who grow up to design games.