3 Questions to Determine if You’re a Math Geek

Cooley and KevinYesterday morning on Cooley and Kevin, a local sports radio show, the hosts and producer each posited three questions that could be used to determine if someone is a real man. (The implication being, if you can’t answer all three, then you ain’t.) I didn’t like that many of the questions focused on sports, but I’m not surprised. I was, however, surprised by some of the non-sports questions. What do you think?

Thom Loverro (guest host):

  • Who wrote The Old Man and The Sea?
  • What was the name of the bar owned by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca?
  • Name three heavyweight boxing champions.

Kevin Sheehan (regular host):

  • Who was Clark Kent’s alter ego?
  • Name one of the two fighters in the “Thrilla in Manila.”
  • Who won the first Super Bowl?

Greg Hough (producer):

  • Name one James Bond movie and the actor who played James Bond in it.
  • Who did Rocky beat to win the title?
  • With what team did Brett Favre win a Super Bowl?

During the rounds of trivia, Loverro remarked, “If you can name three heavyweight champs but haven’t seen Casablanca, then you’re still in puberty.”

This made me wonder:

What three questions would you ask to determine if someone is a real woman?

One possible question might be, “Name two of the three actresses who tortured their boss in the movie Nine to Five.” Then I remembered that women don’t play the same stupid games that men do. And I realized that strolling too far down that path will lead to hate mail or a slap or both. So, let’s move on.

It also made me wonder if there are three questions you could ask to determine if someone is a real math geek. Sure, you could use the Math Purity Test, but that’s 63 questions. A 95% reduction in the number of items would be most welcome.

So, here are my three questions:

  • What’s the eighth digit (after the decimal point) of π?
  • What’s the punch line to, “Why do programmers confuse Halloween and Christmas?”
  • Name seven mathematical puzzles that have entered popular culture.

And my honorable mention:

  • What’s the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

One of my initial questions was, “Have you ever told a math joke for your own amusement, knowing full well that your audience either wouldn’t understand it or wouldn’t find it funny?” But I tossed that one, because it’s a yes/no question that was personal, not factual. Eventually, which questions were kept and which were discarded came down to one simple rule: If nothing was lost by replacing a question with, “Are you a math dork?” then it should be rejected.

How’d I do? Opinions welcome. Submit new or revised questions for determining one’s math geekiness in the comments. 

July 15, 2016 at 9:06 am 2 comments

WODB, Philly Style

Given the subject line, you might think I’d ask which of the following doesn’t belong:

Philly Sports LogosSo many jokes to be made, so little time.

But actually, I was referring to something completely different.

PV_SDP_KeynoteOn Thursday morning, I gave a talk to 850 enthusiastic teachers at the School District of Philadelphia‘s Summer Math Institute. That may be the largest group to which I’ve ever spoken; it certainly exceeds the 600+ to whom I delivered my Punz and Puzzles talk at the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference, and it likely exceeds the number of people who heard me sing a karaoke version of Liz Phair’s Girls! Girls! Girls! after a half bottle of tequila — although that’s a story for another time. (Yes, I know all the words. But I’ve said too much.)

I was going to begin my talk in Philadelphia with the following warm-up question,

Quadrilateral MATH is similar to ATHM. What can you say about MATH?

because I wanted to ask the follow-up question,

What can you say about math?

taking advantage of the double entendre caused by MATH (a geometric figure) and math (an academic subject). Clever, no?

But I was worried that a high-school level geometry question might overshoot my audience of K‑8 and Algebra I teachers. So I was looking for an alternative.

That’s when Jen Silverman — to whom I owe a huge thanks and several pints — suggested that I do a Which One Doesn’t Belong using the letters M, A, T, and H. Based on her suggestion, I created this:


It led to a great discussion, both mathematical and otherwise. So, here’s my challenge to you:

Which letter doesn’t belong?
Post your choice and explanation in the comments.

If you’re not familiar with Which One Doesn’t Belong, then check out http://wodb.ca or follow @WODBMath.

I had always thought that the #WODB movement began with Christopher Danielson’s “better shapes” book, Which One Doesn’t Belong (forthcoming).

But then I found this activity sheet in Navigating through Problem-Solving and Reasoning in Prekindergarten and Kindergarten, which was published by NCTM in 2003:


So WODB is at least 13 years old, probably more. Anyone know exactly when or where it started? I’d guess Lola May, though that’s purely speculative.

Huge props to Karl Fisch, who posted the funniest WODB to date:

WODB Trump HillaryWell played, Karl, well played.

July 2, 2016 at 4:30 pm 3 comments

As If Your Life Depends on It

It was early Wednesday morning (or late Tuesday night, depending on how you look at it) of Finals Week. Yes, I should have been studying — or sleeping; it was 3 a.m., after all — but I was young and in love, and wandering through the quads and into unlocked academic buildings on Penn State’s campus with my girlfriend held far more appeal than the problems and theorems in my linear algebra textbook. I remember a light snowfall and how beautiful she looked in the lamplight. I remember my surprise when I pushed on the main door to Sparks Building and it opened. But what I remember most from that night is a quote that a psychology professor had borrowed from a student’s paper and taped to her office door:

Many things depend on many things.


I don’t remember that girlfriend’s name. And I remember very little from my linear algebra course. But I’ll never forget that quote, and I’ve repeated it many times in business meetings.

de·pen·dent n. what hangs from de necklace

Dependence is a topic that rears its head frequently in mathematics, from algebra to probability, and it’s useful in a variety of contexts.

Football, for instance. Redskins safety David Bruton showed his understanding of dependence during a recent radio interview:

I’m between 225 and 230 [pounds], depending on what I had for lunch.

And measurement. Comedian Ron White understands dependence, too:

Now, I’m between 6’1″ and 6’6″, depending on which convenience store I’m leaving.

Some things aren’t really dependent at all…

The economy depends on economists in the same way that the weather depends on forecasters.

And some things are subjective…

Your true value depends entirely on what you are compared with.

Some things depend on whom you ask…

A teacher said to her student, “Billy, if both of your parents were born in 1967, how old are they now?”

After a few moments, Billy answered, “It depends.”

“On what?” the teacher asked.

“On whether you ask my mother or father.”

And other things on your perspective…

How long a minute feels depends on what side of the bathroom door you’re on.

The location of an animal?

Where can you find polar bears?

Depends on where you lost them!

But the better answer to that joke is, “Just check their polar coordinates!” (You’re welcome.)

This post wouldn’t be complete without an obligatory old-person joke…

An old man is flirting with a woman at the senior center. He asks her, “If I took you out for a night of wining, dining and dancing, what would you wear?”

The old woman replies shyly, “Depends.”

And finally, one last math joke…

How many math professors does it take to plaster a wall?

Depends how hard you throw them.

June 20, 2016 at 7:17 am Leave a comment

Flag Day Math

Tuesday, June 14. Flag Day. It’s nearly impossible for mathy folks to not tell this joke today.

Several engineers were attempting to measure the height of a flag pole. They only had a measuring tape, and they were getting quite frustrated trying to slide the tape up the pole. They could get the tape no more than a third of the way up the pole before it would bend and fall down.

A mathematician asks what they’re doing, and they explain. The mathematician offers to help. She removes the pole from the ground, sets it down, and measures it easily. She then returns the measuring tape to the engineers, and walks off.

When she leaves, one engineer says to the others, “That’s just like a mathematician! We need to know the height, and she gives us the length!”

Those who know it will also tell this one, or a variant.

How do statisticians determine which banner to hoist?
They take a flag poll.

And then there are jokes about specific flags.

I’m about as motivated as the guy who designed the Japanese flag.

Japan Flag

Honestly, I want to stop. But I can’t. Just one more…

What’s the best thing about Switzerland?
I don’t know, but the flag’s a big plus.

Switzerland Flag

Okay, seriously… I didn’t invite you here today to listen to bad jokes. (Well, that’s not the only reason, anyway.)

I invited you here today to have a little Flag Day fun with math. The projectionist Shahee Ilya has converted the flag of every country into a pie graph based on its colors. For example, the Austrian flag has two red stripes and one white stripe, so it is converted to a pie graph as follows:

Austria Flag Hand Right Arrow Austria Pie Chart

Pretty cool, huh?

What follows are pie graphs for ten flags. Even if you are geographically challenged, I assure you that you’ve heard of all ten countries represented below. Can you name the country whose flag was used to create each pie graph?

Flag1 Flag2
Flag3 Flag4
Flag5 Flag6
Flag7 Flag8
Flag9 Flag10


Stumped by the challenge? Here’s a hint: The countries whose flags are represented above are the ten most populous countries on Earth. (Admittedly, had someone asked me to name the ten most populous countries prior to writing this post, I would have been lucky to identify half of them.)

And just to put some space between the pie graphs above and the countries whose flag they represent below (i.e., the answers), I include for your enjoyment one of the most hideous puns you’ll ever see, modified from an even worse version at Six Puns:

During a recent heat wave, a poll revealed that beads of sweat had amassed (mast) on the secretary’s forehead and a virus was rippling through the office staff. Although the boss knew that the secretary was very sick, he saw no reason to ban her from the office. Instead, he wrote a note with pennant (pen and) paper, and he flagged the issue to be addressed with the standard protocol.

If you tolerated that, you certainly deserve the answers…

Nigeria Pakistan
Russia United States
Indonesia Japan
Bangladesh Brazil
China India


Click on over to shaheeilyas.com/flags to see the pie graph for every country in the world. Clicking on the pie graph will reveal the flag and country name.

June 14, 2016 at 10:51 pm Leave a comment

All 6’s and 7’s

Tech N9ne has said that the title of his album All 6’s and 7’s means “in a state of confusion and disarray.” Well, of course it does; that’s what it meant when Shakespeare (1595) used the phrase in Richard II…

But time will not permit: all is uneven,
And every thing is left at six and seven.

…that’s what it meant when Chaucer (1380s) used the phrase in Troilus and Criseyde

But manly set the world on sixe and sevene;
And, if thou deye a martir, go to hevene.

…and that’s what it meant when Sirenia (2002) titled their debut album At Sixes and Sevens.

Today, we’re at sixes and sevens, in a sense. The date is 6/7, and this post is all about the many variations of the classic math joke, “Why is 6 afraid of 7?” Think you’ve heard them all? Think again. You’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer number of variations that have been collected from the farthest corners of the web, but hopefully it won’t throw you into a state of disarray and confusion.

Why is 6 afraid of 7?
Because 7 8 9.

Why is 10 afraid of 7?
Because 7 8 9.
Some folks claim this makes more sense, since 10 would be next in line.

Why is 6 afraid of 7?
He’s playing craps and his point is 10.

Why is 5 (bes) afraid of 6 (alti)?
Because 6 (alti) 7 (yedi) 8 (sekiz).
In Turkish, the word for 7 (yedi) is also the word for “ate.”

Why is ε (epsilon) afraid of θ (theta)?
Because ζ (zeta) η (eta) θ (theta).

Why is 6 afraid of 7?
Because he’s a registered six offender.

Why is 6 afraid of 7?
It isn’t. Numbers are not sentient and therefore are incapable of feeling fear.

Why Windows 10?
Because Windows 7 8 9.
This was one of four jokes on the t-shirt worn by Joe Belfiore when presenting new features of Windows 10 at the Build 2015 conference. Microsoft never released a Windows 9 and skipped straight to Windows 10.

Why don’t jokes work in base 8?
Because 7 10 11.

Why do Canadians prefer jokes in hexadecimal?
Because 7 8 9 A.

(Star Wars)
Why is Yoda afraid of 7?
Because 6 7 8.
Don’t get it? Say it out loud using your best Yoda voice, and pause briefly after the 6.

Why did 6 break up with 7?
Because 7 8 9 out.

(Castiel from Supernatural)
Why is 6 afraid of 7?
I assume it’s because 7 is a prime number, and prime numbers can be intimidating.

June 7, 2016 at 7:37 pm 3 comments

Demitri Martin and Me

As I was watching If I by Demetri Martin, I realized something.

I love Demitri Martin, because I am Demetri Martin.

Not literally, of course. I didn’t inhabit his body and take over his soul. (Would if I could!) Nor is this blog a ruse that appears to be written by Patrick Vennebush when it is, in fact, written by Demitri Martin. I just mean that he and I are about as similar as two people can be without entering the world from the same womb. Check out this list:

Demitri Martin Patrick Vennebush
He’s weird. (In a good way.) I’m weird. (No disclaimer.)
He did Mensa puzzles as a kid. I did Mensa puzzles as a kid.
He uses convoluted mnemonics to remember numbers. I use convoluted mnemonics to remember numbers.
He uses drawings and visual aids during stand-up performances. (See below.) I use drawings and visual aids during math presentations. (See below.)
He was influenced by Steven Wright, Emo Philips, Eddie Izzard, and Mitch Hedberg. I watched every Steven Wright performance on cable television when I was a teenager; my favorite joke is from Emo Philips; I own every Eddie Izzard CD; and one of my great regrets is that I never saw Mitch Hedberg perform live.
He was slated to play Paul de Podesta in Moneyball but was replaced by Jonah Hill. I wasn’t in Moneyball, either.
He was born in a prime number year (1973). I was born in a prime number year (1971).
He won a Perrier Comedy Award. I sometimes drink Perrier while watching Comedy Central.
He once attended class wearing a gorilla suit. I had no fashion sense in college.
He is extremely allergic to nuts. I’m not allergic to them, but I really don’t like crazy people.


One of Demetri’s drawings:

Ants Bears People

One of my drawings:Celsius Benchmarks

Oh, sure, I could list hundreds of other similarities between Demitri and me, but I think the list above is enough to see that the coincidence is uncanny. I mean, we practically live parallel lives.

Demetri used to sneak Mensa puzzle books — not muscle mags or girlie mags — into school to read during class. One of the puzzles purportedly from his Mensa Presents Mighty Mindbusters book:

If a crab-and-a-half weigh a pound-and-a-half, but the half-crab weighs as much again as the whole crab, what do half the whole crab and the whole of the half-crab weigh?

He said that solving problems from those books was validating.

When I got one right, I’d be like, “Yes! I am smart! These other idiots don’t know how much the crabs weigh.” But I do. Because I just spent Saturday working it out.

I solved puzzles like this, too. I don’t know if they made me feel smart, but I enjoyed the way I felt when I figured out a particularly tough one.

From the way he describes it, such puzzles may have had the same effect on both of us.

Whatever the reason, I spent a lot of time as a kid doing these puzzle books. And it came to shape the way I see the world. So now, as an adult, I see the world in those terms. For example, to me a phone number is always a sentence or an equation. Like my friend Becky…

He goes on to say that he remembers Becky’s phone number using a convoluted, mathematical mnemonic:

Beckys Number

That is, he converts the first three digits into an expression that is equal to an expression formed by the last four digits. He concludes that it’s “much simpler,” but it’s unclear how.

Now that’s some crazy, messed-up sh*t.

And I’d probably think it even weirder… if I didn’t do it, too.

One night many years ago, my roommate Adam asked for the number of the local pizza shop. I replied, “33, 13, 203,” because that’s how I saw it. Adam looked at me like I was nuts, and he was probably onto something.

My friend AJ’s street address is 6236, which I remember as 62 = 36.

My street address growing up was 1331, which I associated with the third row of Pascal’s triangle. (It also happens to be 113, but I didn’t know that at the time.)

I chose the four digits of my PIN because… no, wait, that wouldn’t be prudent.

My co-worker Julia’s extension is 2691. I used to remember this as 2 + 6 = 9 – 1, until I recognized a more elegant geometric mnemonic: the sequence 2, 6, 9, 1 forms an isosceles trapezoid on my office phone’s keypad — or it would, were the buttons equally spaced.


I can’t explain why I do this. Perhaps, as Demetri says, it’s the influence of all those puzzle books. Or maybe it’s just that the mental conversion to an equation gives the number meaning, making it more memorable. Or perhaps it’s that I’m wired to see the world through a mathematical lens, despite not wearing glasses.

Larry McCleary, author of The Brain Trust Program, claims that numbers are difficult to remember because “most of us don’t have any emotional attachment to particular numbers.” Mr. McCleary, I’d like you to meet my friend Demetri…

Demitri and I are both into anagrams.

Even when I walk down the street, things look a little different. The signs… the letters dance around. It becomes a little puzzle for me. So, say MOBIL, the gas station — that becomes LIMBO. STARBUCKS becomes RACKS BUST. CAR PHONE WAREHOUSE… AH, ONE SOUR CRAP — WHEE!”

Yeah, I do that, too…


My first car was a CHEVROLET IMPALA, which transforms to COMPARATIVE HELL. Our neighbor’s son is CARSON, whom I jokingly call ACORNS. And I can’t see a STOP sign without also thinking of OPTS, POST, POTS, and TOPS.

If you’re reading this, you likely have some things in common with Demetri, too. What number mnemonics do you use, or what anagrams to do you see?

May 25, 2016 at 8:27 am Leave a comment

XII Puzzle

Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated our 12th anniversary. We celebrated at home, with the boys and a home-cooked meal. I created the following puzzle to fill the time between dinner and dessert.

XIIEach of the 12 answers in this puzzle is a 12-letter word that contains the letters X, I, and I, a reference to the Roman numeral XII. Those three letters appear in the proper order, though they may be separated by other letters.

For example, if you were given the clue, “Of or relating to the study of flags,” you would say, “VEXILLOLOGIC,” which consists of 12 letters and has X, I, and I as the third, fourth, and eleventh letters, respectively.

Below are the clues, each presented in two parts. The first part is the real clue, and the second part in italics is a fun addendum specifically for our anniversary.

Enjoy, and good luck!

  1. Device for putting out a fire, like the one I needed when mommy set my heart ablaze.
  2. Feeling of excitement or elation, like the feeling I had when mommy said, “I do!” (possibly arising from the trepidation that she might not).
  3. Insufficient oxygen due to abnormal breathing, which I experience regularly when mommy kisses me.
  4. Lowest part of the sternum, which holds in the abdominal diaphragm and prevents me from experiencing asphyxia when mommy is nearby.
  5. Someone who takes money or other things through force or threats, which you might call mommy for stealing my heart.
  6. State of being so happy (or drunk) as to lose control of your faculties or behavior, which is the state I’ve been in since I fell in love with mommy.
  7. Someone who loves and studies words, like mommy and daddy.
  8. Serving as an example, like how I serve as a warning to women about why they shouldn’t get married.
  9. Someone who studies the adverse effects of chemicals on humans, like the scientist who told me that mommy’s love is as addictive as Vicodin.
  10. Torturous, intensely painful, or mentally agonizing, which are three ways that mommy has occasionally described living with me.
  11. To increase as much as possible, or the process of trying to find the best option, like the one I used to find the best wife in the world.
  12. In the US, a 1 followed by 51 zeroes; in the UK, a 1 followed by 96 zeroes, or how much I love mommy on a scale of 1 to 10.

Having trouble figuring out the answers? Well, I won’t give them to you, but if you search *x*i*i* at www.morewords.com, it’ll return all 666 words that contain X, I, and I in the proper order. That should significantly limit your search. You’ll then need to do a little work to figure out which 12-letter words fit the clues above.

May 17, 2016 at 9:13 am Leave a comment

Older Posts

About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

MJ4MF (offline version)

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.

Past Posts

July 2016
« Jun    

Enter your email address to subscribe to the MJ4MF blog and receive new posts via email.

Join 228 other followers

Visitor Locations

free counters


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 228 other followers