# If Fermat Had Wider Margins

and other math cartoons

I’ve been drawing some cartoons for the fabulous folks at Art of Problem Solving.

One of their missions is to extend and challenge eager high schoolers. They’ve got an ingenious way of running online sessions through chat window alone. (Their problem-solving sessions have reached some absurdly high fraction of MIT first-years and US Olympiad team members.) More recently, they’ve branched into primary education: their Beast Academy gets rave reviews.

Anyway, I have little to contribute to their curricular efforts, but I do have some groan-worthy math puns on offer, which they graciously accepted. These cartoons first appeared on their social media accounts.

“Rationalizing” vs. Rationalizing

For the record, I view rationalizing the denominator as a useful manipulation, handy to know. Same goes for rationalizing the numerator!

But I view the tradition of compelling students always to rationalize the denominator as a bit silly. Sure, it’s nice to have a “standard form” for radicals (which can otherwise be written so many different ways). But the main justification for rationalizing the denominator (that it’s easier to divide 1.4121 by 2 than to divide 1 by 1.4121) no longer holds in an age of ubiquitous calculators.

Did the world need another Fermat joke? Maybe not.

But did the world need to see my drawing of a cat? Definitely not.

The word “imaginary,” of course, was coined as a slur, and it stuck around. The quaternion units j and k should feel lucky they were not subject to the same kind of nasty nicknaming!

Whenever I make a joke, I’m aware that Randall Munroe (xkcd) or Zack Weinersmith (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal) has probably gotten there first. This is the rare and embarrassing case where they both beat me to the punch.

Leibniz in Love

For a variety of reasons, I think Leibniz would have been a tough dude to love.

Although way easier than Newton.

For those of you unfamiliar with early 20th-century vaudeville references, Wikipedia explains:

Shave and a Haircut” and the associated response “two bits” is a 7-note musical call-and-response coupletriff or fanfare popularly used at the end of a musical performance, usually for comedic effect.

There you go! Comedic effect! See, Wikipedia says it’s funny, so if you think it’s a lousy pun, then you’re just being ahistorical.

Rational vs. Irrational vs. We’re Not 100% Sure

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find stable, rewarding careers.

Even more unfortunately, it’s easy to find careers that cause knee pain.

And most unfortunately of all, it’s getting hard to avoid careers that embroil you in those bitter, all-consuming social media feuds.

For Every Epsilon…

Really, for every epsilon, there exists a whole family of deltas. I have drawn the largest such delta.

Algorithmic Runtimes as Explained Through Choosing a Restaurant

## 8 thoughts on “If Fermat Had Wider Margins”

1. dangermash says:

For those that had never heard of it before, the most famous example of the “shave and a haircut two bits” motif is Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stines.

1. Douglas Magowan says:

When you get to calculus and beyond, you are free to write 1/âˆš2 or âˆš(1/2). Until that time you must show that you understand the algebraic manipulations.

1. Definitely agree that knowledge of the algebraic manipulations is important. I’m fine with students demonstrating that knowledge in other ways. But then again, I’m also fine with a teacher requiring them to demonstrate knowledge by always rationalizing denominators.