Reading the Comics, February 2, 2017: I Haven’t Got A Jumble Replacement Source Yet


If there was one major theme for this week it was my confidence that there must be another source of Jumble strips out there. I haven’t found it, but I admit not making it a priority either. The official Jumble site says I can play if I activate Flash, but I don’t have enough days in the year to keep up with Flash updates. And that doesn’t help me posting mathematics-relevant puzzles here anyway.

Mark Anderson’s Andertoons for January 29th satisfies my Andertoons need for this week. And it name-drops the one bit of geometry everyone remembers. To be dour and humorless about it, though, I don’t think one could likely apply the Pythagorean Theorem. Typically the horizontal axis and the vertical axis in a graph like this measure different things. Squaring the different kinds of quantities and adding them together wouldn’t mean anything intelligible. What would even be the square root of (say) a squared-dollars-plus-squared-weeks? This is something one learns from dimensional analysis, a corner of mathematics I’ve thought about writing about some. I admit this particular insight isn’t deep, but everything starts somewhere.

Norm Feuti’s Gil rerun for the 30th is a geometry name-drop, listing it as the sort of category Jeopardy! features. Gil shouldn’t quit so soon. The responses for the category are “What is the Pythagorean Theorem?”, “What is acute?”, “What is parallel?”, “What is 180 degrees?” (or, possibly, 360 or 90 degrees), and “What is a pentagon?”.

Parents' Glossary Of Terms: 'Mortifraction': That utter shame when you realize you can no longer do math in your head. Parent having trouble making change at a volunteer event.
Terri Libenson’s Pajama Diaries for the 1st of February, 2017. You know even for a fundraising event $17.50 seems a bit much for a hot dog and bottled water. Maybe the friend’s 8-year-old child is way off too.

Terri Libenson’s Pajama Diaries for the 1st of February shows off the other major theme of this past week, which was busy enough that I have to again split the comics post into two pieces. That theme is people getting basic mathematics wrong. Mostly counting. (You’ll see.) I know there’s no controlling what people feel embarrassed about. But I think it’s unfair to conclude you “can no longer” do mathematics in your head because you’re not able to make change right away. It’s normal to be slow or unreliable about something you don’t do often. Inexperience and inability are not the same thing, and it’s unfair to people to conflate them.

Gordon Bess’s Redeye for the 21st of September, 1970, got rerun the 1st of February. And it’s another in the theme of people getting basic mathematics wrong. And even more basic mathematics this time. There’s more problems-with-counting comics coming when I finish the comics from the past week.

'That was his sixth shot!' 'Good! OK, Paleface! You've had it now!' (BLAM) 'I could never get that straight, does six come after four or after five?'
Gordon Bess’s Redeye for the 21st of September, 1970. Rerun the 1st of February, 2017. I don’t see why they’re so worried about counting bullets if being shot just leaves you a little discombobulated.

Dave Whamond’s Reality Check for the 1st hopes that you won’t notice the label on the door is painted backwards. Just saying. It’s an easy joke to make about algebra, also, that it should put letters in to perfectly good mathematics. Letters are used for good reasons, though. We’ve always wanted to work out the value of numbers we only know descriptions of. But it’s way too wordy to use the whole description of the number every time we might speak of it. Before we started using letters we could use placeholder names like “re”, meaning “thing” (as in “thing we want to calculate”). That works fine, although it crashes horribly when we want to track two or three things at once. It’s hard to find words that are decently noncommittal about their values but that we aren’t going to confuse with each other.

So the alphabet works great for this. An individual letter doesn’t suggest any particular number, as long as we pretend ‘O’ and ‘I’ and ‘l’ don’t look like they do. But we also haven’t got any problem telling ‘x’ from ‘y’ unless our handwriting is bad. They’re quick to write and to say aloud, and they don’t require learning to write any new symbols.

Later, yes, letters do start picking up connotations. And sometimes we need more letters than the Roman alphabet allows. So we import from the Greek alphabet the letters that look different from their Roman analogues. That’s a bit exotic. But at least in a Western-European-based culture they aren’t completely novel. Mathematicians aren’t really trying to make this hard because, after all, they’re the ones who have to deal with the hard parts.

Bu Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff rerun for the 2nd is another of the basic-mathematics-wrong jokes. But it does get there by throwing out a baffling set of story-problem-starter points. Particularly interesting to me is Jeff’s protest in the first panel that they couldn’t have been doing 60 miles an hour as they hadn’t been out an hour. It’s the sort of protest easy to use as introduction to the ideas of average speed and instantaneous speed and, from that, derivatives.

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My Math Blog Statistics, September 2014


Since it’s the start of a new month it’s time to review statistics for the previous month, which gives me the chance to list a bunch of countries, which is strangely popular with readers. I don’t pretend to understand this, I just accept the inevitable.

In total views I haven’t seen much change the last several months: September 2014 looks to be closing out with about 558 pages viewed, not a substantial change from August’s 561, and triflingly fewer than July’s 589. The number of unique visitors has been growing steadily, though: 286 visitors in September, compared to 255 the month before, and 231 the month before that. One can choose to read this as the views per visitor dropping to 1.95, its lowest figure since March, but I’ll take it as more people finding things that interest them, at least.

As to what those things are — well, mostly it’s comic strip posts, which I suppose makes sense given that they’re quite accessible and often contain jokes people understand. The most popular articles for September 2014 were:

As usual the country sending me the greatest number of readers was the United States (347), with Canada (29), Austria (27), the United Kingdom (26), and Puerto Rico and Turkey (20 each) coming up close behind. My single-reader countries for September were Bahrain, Brazil, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, and Sweden. Finland, Germany, and Sweden were single-reader countries in August, too, but at least none of them were single-reader countries in July as well.

Among the search terms bringing people here the past month have been:

I got to my 17,882nd reader this month, a little short of that tolerably nice and round 18,000 readers. If I don’t come down with sudden-onset boringness, though, I’ll reach that in the next week or so, especially if I have a couple more days of twenty or thirty readers.

What Is The Most Common Jeopardy! Response?


Happy New Year!

I want to bring a pretty remarkable project to people’s attention. Dan Slimmon here has taken the archive of Jeopardy! responses (you know, the answers, only the ones given in the form of a question) from the whole Jeopardy! fan archive, http://www.j-archive.com, and analyzed them. He was interested not just in the most common response — which turns out to be “What is Australia?” — but in the expectation value of the responses.

Expectation value I’ve talked about before, and for that matter, everyone mentioning probability or statistics has. Slimmon works out approximately what the expectation value would be for each clue. That is, imagine this: if you ignored the answer on the board entirely and just guessed to every answer either responded absolutely nothing or else responded “What is Australia?”, some of the time you’d be right, and you’d get whatever that clue was worth. How much would you expect to get if you just guessed that answer? Responses that turn up often, such as “Australia”, or that turn up more often in higher-value squares, are worth more. Responses that turn up rarely, or only in low-value squares, have a lower expectation value.

Simmons goes on to list, based on his data, what the 1000 most frequent Jeopardy! responses are, and what the 1000 responses with the highest expectation value are. I’m so delighted to discover this work that I want to bring folks’ attention to it. (I do have a reservation about his calculations, but I need some time to convince myself that I understand exactly his calculation, and my reservation, before I bother anyone with it.)

The comments at his page include a discussion of a technical point about the expectation value calculation which has an interesting point about the approximations often useful, or inevitable, in this kind of work, but that’ll take a separate essay to quite explain that I haven’t the time for just today.

[ Edit: I initially misunderstood Slimmon’s method and have amended the article to reflect the calculation’s details. Specifically I misunderstood him at first to have calculated the expectation value of giving a particular response, and either having it be right or wrong. Slimmon assumed that one would either give the response or not at all; getting the answer wrong costs the contestant money and so has a negative value, while not answering has no value. ]