Errors in “Math with Bad Drawings”

It has come to my attention that my book Math with Bad Drawings has some errors.

(And no, it’s not that a few good drawings slipped through.)

This fallibility should surprise no one. My editorial team is full of heroes, but with an author like me, mistakes are inevitable. Especially on difficult tasks like, say, shopping for produce, or not walking face-first into parking meters.

I would love to correct these errors, but the book is a victim of its own success: as the hardcover continues to sell like misshapen hotcakes, it may be a while before we do a paperback or a second edition.

In the meantime, I will document the errors below, updating the list whenever a new one comes to my attention. Please feel encouraged to comment with any additional typos that you’ve noticed!


Page 36: “Borromean” rings


Here is a beautiful idea: three rings intertwined, such that if you remove any one of them, the other two separate. They are linked not as pairs, but only as a trio.

With this lovely trait, the Borromean rings can serve as a lovely metaphor for many  things. A delicate political alliance. Sternberg’s triarchic theory of love. Perhaps even the Christian trinity. (Having read some G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, it is my understanding that basically everything is a metaphor for the Christian trinity.)

Unfortunately, I did not draw Borromean rings.

I drew two linked rings, with an extraneous third ring snuggled up alongside them, desperately pretending that it matters. This is a much less useful metaphor, although it does resemble my behavior while my wife is bonding with a stranger’s dog.

I thank Damaris O’Trand and others for bringing this error to my attention.


Page 56: m vs. cm

m vs. cm.jpg

In this passage, I urge you to build a triangle of side lengths 5, 6, and 7 meters. This unwieldy monstrosity will no doubt occupy your entire yard, prompting squabbles with the neighbors. Your only solace is that I have promised to build one too.

But then, I betray you! The drawing shows that I have constructed instead a petite, portable triangle with sides of 5, 6, and 7 centimeters.

I apologize for this devious switch (and I apologize also to the kind soul who pointed it out to me and whose name I have misplaced).


Chapter 7: Irrational Paper

overzealous paper.jpg

In my zealous advocacy for A4 paper, I went too far. Perhaps this is why they call me “Overzealous Orlin.”

(NOTE: please, no one call me Overzealous Orlin.)

It is slander to say that 8.5″ by 11″ paper bears no relation to larger or smaller sizes. Two sheets yield the next size up (11″ by 17″), and half a sheet yields the next size down (5.5″ by 8.5″). In that sense, it’s just good as A4.

But there’s a problem. While 8.5″ by 11″ has a long-side-to-short-side ratio of 1.29, its neighbors each have ratios of 1.55. They are, in short, different shapes. If you’ve ever tried enlarging or scaling down a photocopy, you recognize the madness this causes.

What makes the A-series special is its proportionality. Every paper in that glorious sequence is a similar rectangle, a scaled version of its brethren.

I knew all this when I was writing the chapter, yet I allowed the heat of rhetoric to carry me too far. I thank Joe Sweeney for the correction, and I apologize to 8.5″ by 11″ paper: you are still inferior, of course, but not as inferior as I suggested.


Page 225: “Singles”

singles worth two bases

In writing Math with Bad Drawings, I did my best to shun the kind of daunting technicality that drives so many from the gates of mathematics. So please forgive me for diving into the weeds here, but grasping this miscue requires real sophistication; a doctorate will help.

The text above asserts that a “single” in baseball is worth 2 bases.

It also asserts that 12 x 2 = 12.

Now, these claims may look perfectly credible to the outsider. But expert sabermetricians will recognize a small yet meaningful error in the first claim. Meanwhile, number theorists may be able to spot a minor inaccuracy in the second.

I thank Andrew Fast for calling this to my attention.


Page 337: “Stage” Dead

stage dead

I meant to write “stay dead.”

Though actually, “stage dead” could be a cool new idiom.

So you know what? I do NOT regret this error. Come at me, grammarians!

26 thoughts on “Errors in “Math with Bad Drawings”

    1. Guessing from the few details I see, that looks a lot like he was describing John Horton Conway’s “game of life”, a cellular automaton composed of a square lattice of cells, each of which can be “live” or “dead” at each tick of time. Each cell has eight neighbours (four diagonally, four sharing an edge with it). Count how many live neighbours each cell has, at a given tick of time: if it has more than three or less than two, it’ll be dead at the next tick; if it has three live neighbours now, it’ll be live next tick (regardless of what it is now); if it has two live neighbours now, it’ll be the same next tick as it is now (so it’ll stay live if live but stay dead if dead). The pictured square of four live cells, surrounded by dead ones, is stable; each live cell has three live neighbours, so is live next tick; dead cells at a corner have one live neighbour, so are dead next tick; dead cells along a side have two live neighbours, so stay as they are, dead. For a web implementation, I can offer you:

  1. I don’t have a correction, but a comment. I bought your book because I thought I would enjoy it. I did. But what I was to share is that my 11 year old has declared a renewed passion for math as her favorite subject because of it. She has been quoting it and looking eagerly for mathematical subject material beyond the algebra she is getting in school. Go Bad Drawings!

    1. Thanks, Megan – I’m honored that you both enjoyed it, and especially happy that she’s inspired to dig deeper into math!

  2. In the first note on part II, it says that for a pentagon with equal corners, every corner is 180 degrees. Last time I checked, it was 108 degrees. So the ‘0’ and ‘8’ are mixed up. Don’t know if this is in the original version, or if it’s a mistake by the Dutch translator.

  3. Note to self, via Ray Cavender: 12 times 9 is not 96.

    cf: Chapter IV, Section 7 The Variance (And The Standard Deviation), 8th para: “In particular, a single outlier…(e.g., 3**2 = 9; 12 such terms total to just 96)”

  4. Deniz Yuret noted an error from Change is the Only Constant:

    “Loved the book. Small typo: the second integral on pp. 295 of notes should be f(x), not g(x). (did not know where else to send this).”

  5. Katie Menchen pointed out another error in CITOC: “You may have noticed already, but on page 57, all the derivatives are dq/dp… I think the central two are supposed to be dq/da, and the last one dp/da?”

    1. Roderick Powell caught this too: “Found a few errors today while reading “Change is the only Constant.” You may already be aware of them. Some of the derivatives notation do not match what is shown the graphs on pages 57 and 58.”

  6. An error in CITOC, caught by Albert Nuttall: “At the bottom of page 101 of “Change is the only Constant”, is the phrase “until at last you reverse direction, and BEGIN to accelerate downward”. That is not true.” It should, of course, say “begin to MOVE downward,” since you’ve been accelerating downward the whole time.

  7. A good suggestion via email from David Schneider, to include page numbers in the endnotes (or perhaps superscripts in the main text).

  8. A good point raised in an email from Joris Verstappen: I failed to mention that A0 paper has an area of 1 square meter. Truly, the A-series is a work of wisdom.

  9. A reader of the Korean translation of CITOC writes: “I don’t know whether this error had been made in the translating process, but in chapter 20, the gamma function should be (n+1)!, since there is no -1 in the exponents of x. I hope you check this”

  10. Caleb, an eagle-eyed reader of Math Games with Bad Drawings, notes two errors: 1) It says “on page 165, lyrics to Jonathan Coulton’s ‘Skullcrusher Mountain’ are used with permission,” while it is actually on page 167, and 2) it says “Title: Math games with bad drawings: 74 1/2 simple, challenging, go-anywhere games-and why they matter.”

  11. Dear Mr. Orlin, I read your section about symmetry on page 107 and 108 and dont get it, why the horizontal mirror does not give a symmetry for the Wookiee. If I draw a horizontal axis between the original Wookiee and the one upside down I can draw every point of the upper picture at the same distance below the axis and get the lower picture. Why is this not symmetric?

  12. A great point about Math Games with Bad Drawings from Marcello, via a Twitter DM: “The book is excellent! Thus far I’ve noticed only one glaring mistake; I wonder if it’s already been reported to you. The illustration on p. 151 shows a few NP-HardFun games. One of them is Set. This seems like a mistake because you can locate 3-card sets with any easy to check property in a batch of N cards in O(N^3) checks. This is polynomial time, which is not NP hard (unless P=NP). Granted, set still has the intuitive property that solutions are much easier to verify than find (in this case the relative difficulties are O(1) vs O(N^3)) and O(N^3) still feels big if you’re trying to solve the problem un-aided by computers, so I can totally see why it would have felt natural to include it there.”

    1. Another good MGWBD catch from Claire, via email: “I am just writing with one edit for the next edition, in case you haven’t already found it: on page 78, the diagram for Splatter does not have blue and white dots in equal numbers. There are 17 blue dots and 19 white dots.”

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