A Borrowed Joke (and 15 other math cartoons)

The Fence Post Error

2017.12.1 fencepost problem

I drew this one at the request of Prof. Jim Propp, who writes the excellent Mathematical Enchantments and whose November essay Impaled on a Fencepost explored the kind of off-by-one errors that I make at least 17 times per day. (Or is it 18?)

Greetings from Heisenberg!

2017.12.4 postcard from heisenberg

Tourist bureau of Würzburg, Germany: please feel free to sell these.

Gotham’s Greatest Nemesis

2017.12.5 fallacious policy analyt vs. batman

Having read (and enjoyed) Glen Weldon’s book on the cultural history of Batman, I know that “Fallacious Policy Analyst” is far from the least credible Batman villain. In fact, compared to actual villains like “Calculator,” “Amygdala,” “Penny Plunderer,” and  “Actuary,” I think that my invention is downright menacing.

“Facts are useless.” “Is that a fact?” 

2017.12.7 wiki instead of fact

Saddest/best response on Twitter:

Types of Equations

2017.12.8 identity vs. conditional

There ought to be a word for equations that are never true, like x + 5 = x.

I guess that word is “false.”

I “Borrowed” This Joke

2017.12.11 borrowing

This cartoon was drawn at the behest of Prof. Matt Wykneken:

the word “borrow” – which is typically used in the US, is not so typical in other cultures which avoid whatever is their equivalent of “borrow.” The process, rather, is an “exchange” or “ungrouping.”

Roy G. Biv

2017.12.12 roy g. biv

For the full EM spectrum – radio, microwave, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, x-ray, gamma – we’d need a somewhat clunkier acronym: R Miroy G. Bivux G. Or, if you prefer your nonsense embedded in further nonsense:

Real Men In Real Offices Yell Greedily:
“Beware Very Useless Xylophone Games!”

The Most Important Baseball Statistic

2017.12.15 ribs

Other crucial baseball stats include NOSEs and EYEs.

(The real sabermetricians, of course, tend to look at NPE, or NOSES PLUS EYES, where the league average is 3.000.)

A Little Piece of a Distant Planet

2017.12.18 e to the pi i

My high school math teacher showed us a bit of complex analysis senior year (e.g., a derivation of Euler’s formula from the Taylor series for sine, cosine, and exp). I decided then that I wanted to go to there. Still haven’t; will someday.


2017.12.19 diversification

Monoculture: it’s the new biodiversity.

The Twelve Iterations of Christmas

2017.12.21 twelfth for loop iteration

I found myself writing a parody of “12 Days of Christmas” as a blog post, then found myself exhausted by the very notion of the song, and wrote this cartoon instead. A definite upgrade.

F-prime-prime-prime-prime, prime-prime-prime-prime

2017.12.22 f''''''''

The Brits, of course, sing “f-dash-dash-dash-dash-dash-dash-dash-dash” and tend to medley the song with “Jingle Bells.”

(F-dashing  through the snow… in a one-variable function…)

Silent 0

2017.12.25 twelfth holy nought

As a former colleague pointed out on Facebook, the singers clearly have a Birmingham accent, affectionately known as “Brummie.” It is reviled by Brits as one of their island’s ugliest, and generally enjoyed by foreigners as above-average for musicality and adorableness. (My colleague and I, respectively a South African and a Yankee, were able to take the outsider’s perspective here.)

The Cruelty of the Mean

2017.12.26 mean limerick

Not sure how I feel about the colors in the text.

Memorizing Capitals

2017.12.28 every capital

A polite, self-effacing Facebook commenter pointed out that I misspelled “achievement” as “achivement,” which sounds like an award for adding chives to your meal. This is what I get for switching over from hand-written text to typed: typos, but legible typos.

The Purpose of Math Education

2017.12.29 purpose of math ed

I’m not sure why you’d need functions to understand groups, but the point stands.

28 thoughts on “A Borrowed Joke (and 15 other math cartoons)

  1. I was laughing at the Wurzburg question when I thought “is anyone going to get it right?” when I noticed you cheated and wrote the answer down. Bad mathematician!

    1. *hangs head*

      This is a bad habit of mine. I’m like the guy who refers to jokes by their punchlines (“Oh, tell the one about how the chicken wanted to get to the other side”).

    1. Good point! I imagine you can understand symmetries as operations without thinking particularly deeply about the function framework, but I’m sure it’s easier to make quick sense of symmetry groups if you’ve thought a lot about function composition

  2. I thought it was pretty unlikely that the mean number of (noses+eyes) was really 3, and sure enough, pitcher Jordan Underwood has only one eye. This immediately pulls the mean (though not the median) down, since it is vanishingly unlikely that any player has two noses or three eyes to pull it back up again. Or as Ross Gardler said, “Most people have more than the average number of feet, but I’m not about to start a company selling shoes in threes.”

    1. Actually, the alien in the cartoon has three eyes. I don’t think he/she/it plays baseball, but who knows? If three-eyed aliens play baseball, that will definitely raise the mean. Also, the mnemonic left out a word starting with I for indigo. Hooray! I’ve waited a long time for the day when someone classifies indigo as not a color.

      1. Ack – unintentional! But it’s a fair point. I’m not convinced that I could pick indigo out of a lineup with purple, blue, and periwinkle.

        1. The indigo stripe in the spectrum is easy to spot, once you realize that the “blue” stripe isn’t really the blue stripe. The blue stripe is the light blue.

          On your computer monitor “indigo” is “hex blue” #0000FF#
          and “blue” is “hex cayan” #00FFFF#

          Confused? Good. Somewhere since the days of Isaac Newton, the meanings of words has changed.

        2. Oops! Doug M is not correct. The 24-bit color assignment for “blue” _is_ assigned to #0000FF. Little more research, there, fella.

        3. Useless Geek,

          I think you are making my point!

          When Newton said that there were 7 colors in the rainbow and those include blue, indigo and violet, the color that Newton calls blue is not what you call blue.

          24 bit blue #0000FF Newton calls Indigo.
          24 bit cyan #00FFFF Newton calls Blue.

          The definition of Blue has changed over the centuries.

    2. Finnegan’s paper began with the electrifying sentence, “The average Canadian has one testicle, just like Adolph Hitler — or, more precisely, the average Canadian has 0.96 testicles, an even sadder plight than Hitler’s, if the average Anything actually existed.”

      “The normal,” he concluded “consists of a null set which nobody and nothing really fits.”

    3. This is a good quibble, and for once I anticipated it! The mean is not *precisely* 3, but with 750 players on MLB rosters, plus thousands more in the minors and in college, my stated value of 3.000 is (I’m pretty confident) the correct figure to three decimal places (unless one in 1000 players are like Underwood).

      I like that shoe quote. I feel like I’ve got a document somewhere to which I need to add that.

    1. The trick there seems to be that the mnemonic not only *stands* for something useful, but its literal meaning is also an urgent and important message

        1. I showed this to the hubby who said “I don’t get it…how can a groundhog be a nihilist?” good lord, Germans are so linear! lol

  3. Fences usually enclose an area, so you really only need 5 posts. The shape may look a bit strange though.

    1. Verrrry nice. The specification did not include a requirement for a liner separator fence, so your answer is completely accurate.

      Hey, I completed the contract. Where’s my money?

  4. For “types of equations” always false statements are contradictions and always true statements are tautologies, although I haven’t heard these applied to expressions outside of logic (or outside of the class I learned them in).

  5. The outsider in the animation has three eyes. I don’t think it plays baseball, yet who knows? On the off chance that three-looked at outsiders play baseball, that will raise the mean. Likewise, the mental aide forgot about a word beginning with me for indigo. Yahoo! I’ve sat tight quite a while for the day when somebody orders indigo as not a shading.

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