STEM Academia: The Game

The Hammer of Paradox

2019.1.17 hammer

All paradoxes are basically the same. You’ve got the barber who cannot shave himself, the set which cannot contain itself, the sentence that cannot describe itself… and, in this case, the glass-breaker that cannot break its own glass.


Deadly Notational Sins

2019.1.22 an early grave

The same paradox returns as the punchline here. What’s the sixth way? Is the infuriating failure to list a sixth way, in itself, the sixth way? And if so, doesn’t that mean there really are six ways shown… and thus, no infuriating failure… and thus, no sixth way?

(Hint: this paradox is the sixth way.)


2019.1.22 theology

Several commenters informed me that they didn’t realize e-theism was an option, and now intend to embrace it.

This cartoon was inspired by my readings of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, both of whom seem to suggest the best explanation for the trinity is that you can’t understand it, and that’s okay, because divinity. And who am I to argue with double-initialed writers?


And After All….
You’re My Variable…

2019.1.24 what x means

This is true of much pop music, but Wonderwall is a singularly impressive specimen. Everyone thinks that Wonderwall has some kind of story lurking behind it, but then you look at the lyrics, and it’s like… huh?

(“Wonderwall,” by the way, was the name of George Harrison’s Record label. In other words, it’s a nonsensical placeholder Beatles reference. Just like a variable!)


2019.1.25 facebook emojis

Only semi-relevant, but my friend Adam persuaded me a few years back to use the “wow” reaction on friends’ posts much more often, his arguments being: (a) It works for most news, whether happy and exciting or angering and frustrating, and (b) Nobody else uses it, so whereas your “like” or “love” will go unnoticed among the hordes, your “wow” will stand out, and your friend will know you care.

Anyway, if too many people take up his advice, it ruins the equilibrium, so you didn’t hear it from me.


Flat Earth Society

2019.1.28 flat earth

I try to avoid puns.

Which makes it suspicious that I write so many of them.

But trust me: for every mediocre pun I publish, there are twenty even worse ones that languish on my hard drive.


Two Points Make a Line

2019.1.29 two points make a line

The actual quote (one of my dad’s absolute faves) is: “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

It’s a glorious example of following one’s own advice: The modified version “Make everything as simple as possible” would be simpler, but Einstein’s original is the simplest one possible while still being wise counsel.


My Kind of Xenophobia

2019.1.31 foreigners

I feel this way about my brother-in-law Farid. He moved here speaking what little English he’d picked up from Dave Chappelle routines and Lakers broadcasts… now, less than a decade later, he’s added English to his existing fluencies (Algerian, classical Arabic, and French, plus some Berber) and reads harder books than I do.

Screw that guy, right?


The Fruits of a Life Writing for the Internet

2019.2.1 deathbed words

“Impressions” is a word for “number of people who saw your post.” They are a dubious statistic which social networks wave before their users’ faces, a bit like a hypnotist’s swaying watch, to lull them into a dreamy sense of false accomplishment.


2019.2.5 crosswords

I know it’s not a good joke if you have to explain it, but: “nonlinear” has nine letters, and also, it’s effectively a curse in mathematics; hence, a “four-letter word.”

See? Now it’s a great joke, right?


The Mysteries of the Circle

2019.2.12 circle limerick

This comes up every time I teach about polygons. And not because I’m bringing it up! Students love the leap towards infinity.


Arithmetic vs. Algebra

2019.2.13 before and after algebra

Came up with this one while running a workshop for teachers on how to make math memes. One participant had a far better version: the “Before Algebra” panel showed a student solving a problem by a roundabout guess-and-check method, and the “After Algebra” panel showed the student still solving it exactly the same way.


The Self-Curving Exam

2019.2.14 test that curves itself

It’s silly how often we judge a test’s efficacy by the distribution of scores, rather than by whether it actually assessed students’ mastery.

And by “silly,” I mean “horrifying.”

Several commenters raised the question of whether there are separate coin flips for each student, or a communal set of coin flips for the class. The former will pretty much guarantee a nice binomial distribution; the latter may create a lumpier distribution, if the students’ guesses are highly correlated.

The again, one set of coin flips will make for faster grading. And given a choice between speed and efficacy, we know which one math education tends to pick…


2019.2.15 exponential kid vs. adult

This cartoon is a work of fiction, obviously.

In reality, both kids and adults use exponential to mean “really fast.”


9 Stories, 9! Readings

2019.2.18 nine stories

J.D. Salinger’s books, ranked by desirability of reading them in every permutation:

  1. Franny and Zooey: 2 stories, hence 2 permutations; well worth it
  2. Nine Stories: 9 stories, hence 362,800 permutations; maybe a tough slog
  3. Catcher in the Rye: 1 story, hence 1 permutation; eh, take it or leave it


The Curse of the Three-Day Weekend

2019.2.19 three-day weekend

What’s more fun than millennial burnout, right kids?!


2019.2.20 how to end your proofs

For more thoughts, see my post on this urgent question.


Lesser-Known Kinds of Circles

2019.2.21 circle variants

Not depicted: the squircle.


The Tragic End of a Proof By Contradiction

2019.2.25 proof by contradiction

Drew this one for a Jim Propp essay over at Mathematical Enchantments. If you ever wanted a more intellectually serious but still playfully accessible version of Math with Bad Drawings, check it out!


2019.3.4 time management tips

This one went viral on Twitter; see further discussion here.


2019.3.5 STEM academia the game

This one has been spotted on a few office doors in math departments. Y’all are very brave and crazy and I wish you the best!

6 thoughts on “STEM Academia: The Game

  1. Re the self-curving exam:
    The assumption that 100% of your students will write their name on their exam is touching but naive.

  2. “Came up with this one while running a workshop for teachers….” I somehow read this as, ‘while *ruining* a workshop for teachers.’ And like so many things you write, it made me smile and chuckle. Then I noticed my err. And it occurred to me I should probably just thank you for all your intended (and not so intended) humorous attempts to enliven and enlighten us. Thanks!

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