Today is a glorious day!

The date is 8/15/17, which is mathematically significant because those three numbers represent a Pythagorean triple:

8^2 + 15^2 = 17^2

But August 15 has also been historically important:

But as of today, August 15 has one more reason to brag: It’s the official publication date of a bestseller-to-be…

Like its predecessor, this second volume of math humor contains over 400 jokes. Faithful readers of this blog may have seen a few of them before, but most are new. And if you own a copy of the original Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, well, fear not — you won’t see any repeats.

What kind of amazing material will you find on the pages of More Jokes 4 Mathy Folks? There are jokes about school…

An excited son says, “I got 100% in math class today!”

“That’s great!” his mom replies. “On what?”

The son says, “50% on my homework, and 50% on my quiz!”

There are jokes about mathematical professions…

An actuary, an underwriter, and an insurance salesperson are riding in a car. The salesperson has his foot on the gas, the underwriter has her foot on the brake, and the actuary is looking out the back window telling them where to go.

There are Tom Swifties…

“13/6 is a fraction,” said Tom improperly.

And, of course, there are pure math jokes to amuse your inner geek…

You know you’re a mathematician if you’ve ever wondered how Euler pronounced Euclid.

Hungry for more? Sorry, you’ll have to buy a copy to sate that craving.

To purchase a copy for yourself or for the math geeks in your life, visit Amazon, where MoreJ4MF is already getting rave reviews:

More Jokes 4 Mathy Folks Amazon Review

For quantity discounts, visit Robert D. Reed Publishers.

August 15, 2017 at 11:45 am Leave a comment

Mo’ Math Limericks

I’ve posted limericks to this blog before. Quite a few, in fact.

Mathematical MagpieBut a friend recently sent me The Mathematical Magpie, a collection of math essays, stories and poems assembled by Clifton Fadiman and published by Simon and Schuster in 1962. Coincidentally, one section of the book is titled Comic Sections, the name of a mathematical joke book written by Des MacHale in 1993. (I contacted Professor MacHale several years ago, and he suggested that we swap books. Best. Trade. Ever.) Des MacHale is Emeritus Professor at the University of Cork, a mere 102 km from Limerick, Ireland… which brings us full circle to today’s topic.

The Mathematical Magpie contains quite a few limericks, one of which you have likely heard before:

There was a young lady named Bright,
Who traveled much faster than light.
She started one day
In the relative way,
And returned on the previous night.

Despite a variety of other claims, that limerick was written by Professor A. H. Reginald Buller, F.R.S., a biologist who received £2 when the poem was published in Punch, and he “was more excited at the check than he was later when his book on fungi was published.”

You may not, however, be familiar with Professor Buller’s follow-up limerick about Miss Bright:

To her friends said the Bright one in chatter,
“I have learned something new about matter:
As my speed was so great
Much increased was my weight,
Yet I failed to become any fatter!”

Here are a few other limericks that appear in The Mathematical Magpie:

There was an old man who said, “Do
Tell me how I’m to add two and two?
I’m not very sure
That it doesn’t make four —
But I fear that is almost too few.

The topologist’s mind came unguided
When his theories, some colleagues derided.
Out of Möbius strips
Paper dolls he now snips,
Non-Euclidean, closed, and one-sided.
Hilbert Schenck, Jr.

A mathematician named Ray
Says extraction of cubes is child’s play.
You don’t need equations
Or long calculations
Just hot water to run on the tray.
L. A. Graham

Flappity, floppity, flip!
The mouse on the Möbius strip.
The strip revolved,
The mouse dissolved
In a chronodimensional skip.
Frederick Winsor

And though it’s not a limerick, this one is just too good not to include for your enjoyment:

A diller, a dollar,
A witless trig scholar
On a ladder against a wall.
If length over height
Gives an angle too slight,
The cosecant may prove his downfall.
L. A. Graham

Finally, I leave you with a MJ4MF original:

With my head in an oven
And my feet on some ice,
I’d say that, on average,
I feel rather nice!

Got any math poems or limericks you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them!

August 4, 2017 at 11:31 pm Leave a comment

Just Sayin’

Heidi Lang is one of the amazing teachers at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. When she’s not challenging my sons with interesting puzzles and problems, she’s entertaining them with jokes that make them think. On her classroom door is a sign titled Just Sayin’, under which hangs a variety of puns. Here’s one of them:

Last night, I was wondering why I couldn’t see the sun. Then it dawned on me.

That reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

I wondered why the baseball kept getting larger. Then it hit me.

Occasionally, one of her puns has a mathematical twist:

Did you know they won’t be making yardsticks any longer?

And this is one of her mathematical puns, though I’ve modified it a bit:

When he picked up a 20‑pound rock and threw it 5,280 feet, well, that was a real milestone.

I so enjoy reading Ms. Lang’s Just Sayin’ puns that I decided to create some of my own. I suspect I’ll be able to hear you groan…

  • He put 3 feet of bouillon in the stockyard.
  • When the NFL coach went to the bank, he got his quarterback.
  • She put 16 ounces of poodle in the dog pound.
  • The accountant thought the pennies were guilty. But how many mills are innocent?
  • His wife felt bad when she hit him in the ass with 2⅓ gallons of water, so she gave him a peck on the cheek.
  • Does she know that there are 12 eggs in a carton? Sadly, she dozen.
  • When his daughter missed the first 1/180 of the circle, he gave her the third degree.
  • She caught a fish that weighed 4 ounces and measured 475 nm on the visible spectrum. It was a blue gill.
  • When Rod goes to the lake, he uses a stick that is 16.5 feet long. He calls it his fishing rod.
  • What is a New York minute times a New York minute? Times Square.
  • I wanted to dance after drinking 31 gallons of Budweiser, so I asked the band to play the beer barrel polka.
  • The algebra teacher was surprised by the mass when she tried to weigh the ball: b ounces.

And because this post would feel incomplete without it, here’s probably the most famous joke of this ilk:

  • In London, a pound of hamburger weighs about a pound.

August 1, 2017 at 6:34 am Leave a comment

MORE Jokes 4 Mathy Folks

I know, I know.

You remember the day that you bought Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. You headed directly home from the bookstore and read it cover to cover. Then, once the tears of laughter had dried, you read it again. And sure, you were a little concerned that if you read it a third time, well, you might be accused of neglecting you’re family. But social reputation be damned… you’re a mathy folk, and neglecting people is what we do. So you returned to the first page and gave it one more go.

That day was several years ago.

Today, MJ4MF occupies a position of honor on your bathroom shelf, and while conducting your business you occasionally open to a random page, hoping to rediscover an old chestnut. But alas, you’ve read it so many times, you have every joke memorized, and the cover is falling off.

So, now what?

Well, don’t worry. You’ve waited patiently, and your patience is about to be rewarded. Announcing the release of the second volume in the MJ4MF franchise…

More Jokes 4 Mathy Folks
MORE Jokes 4 Mathy Folks


Head over to Amazon to order a copy today! Officially, it isn’t available until August 15, 2017 (bonus points if you know why that date was selected as the publication date), but you can get it now, and you’ll have plenty of time to memorize the jokes before the first day of school.

(And while you’re there, you should probably buy a replacement copy of Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, too. Get a new one with its cover intact. You don’t want to look like someone who doesn’t take care of your books, do you? Of course not. And besides, purchasing another copy for you will boost the sales ranking for me. Win-win.)

So, what will you find in this new collection of jokes? Over 400 jokes, from every branch of mathematics.

There are jokes about geometry…



There are jokes about percents…

An excited son says, “I got 100% in math class today!”

“That’s great!” his mom replies. “On what?”

The son says, “50% on my homework, and 50% on my quiz!”

There are jokes about algebra…

What is PA + PN + LA + LN?

A (P + L)(A + N) that’s been FOILed.

Heck, there are even jokes about other counting systems…

What happened in the binary race?

Zero won.

And what won’t you find in this new collection? You won’t find a single one of the 400+ jokes that were in the original Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. That’s right, this collection is 100% entirely new!

Don’t delay! Be the coolest kid on your block by ordering a copy of MORE Jokes 4 Mathy Folks today!

July 31, 2017 at 7:50 am 1 comment

The Two Things

Economics professor Glen Whitman likes to play a game he calls The Two Things. As the story goes, he once told a guy he was an economist, and the guy asked, “What are the two things about economics?” When Whitman asked for clarification, the guy allegedly said,

For every subject, there are only two things you really need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.

Do you think that’s true? I’m not sure it is. Then again, I’m not sure it isn’t. But it made me wonder:

What are the two things about MATH EDUCATION?

Think you’ve got an answer to that question? If so, post your answer to @pvennebush on Twitter using the hashtag #2thingsmathed. (Or go old school, and leave it in the comments if you’re not a Twitterer.)

Answer the question however you like — serious or funny; pithy or loquacious; as an educator, a student, or just a concerned citizen.

MORE_JOKES_FINAL_FRONT_COVER_1024x1024The best submission — as judged by me, using a methodology that will be completely biased and not in the least bit subjective — will receive a signed copy of the forthcoming More Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. That’s right. With a little creativity, you’ll be able to WIN the highly anticipated sequel to Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks before you can even BUY IT! How awesome is that?

The winner will be announced on Friday, August 4, 2017.

Over the years, Whitman has asked the question, “What are the two things about ___?” to people in a variety of professions. He’s collected quite a few of the responses at The Two Things page, but here are a few of my favorites:

Being an Executive Assistant

  1. The boss is always right.
  2. The boss is always wrong.

Project Management

  1. The schedule will slip.
  2. It’s all about managing the slippage.

Binary Systems

  1. 0
  2. 1

Computer Programming

  1. The only way to idiot-proof software is to take away their computers.
  2. Simple is better.

Software Engineering

  1. There is no such thing as bug-free software.
  2. Adding manpower to a late project makes it later.


  1. Hit.
  2. Don’t get hit.


  1. Include what’s necessary.
  2. Leave everything else out.


  1. Know the rules.
  2. Pay attention.


  1. Evolution is the process through which genetic structures that are better equipped to reproduce viable copies will tend to proliferate.
  2. Except for the platypus.

Civil Engineering

  1. Dirt + Water = Mud.
  2. You can’t push a rope.


  1. There is no such thing as objectivity.
  2. How the story ends will depend on your deadline.

July 26, 2017 at 7:49 am 4 comments

Jeopardy!, Problem-Solving Strategies, and Keyboard Puzzles

My father-in-law was a three-day Jeopardy! champion in 1967. Some 50 years later, he is still a devotee of the show, and he and his wife watch religiously every evening. It’s not uncommon for them to call us at 7:25 p.m. to share that day’s Final Jeopardy question. One night recently, this is the question they shared:


QWERTY Keyboard

QWERTY Keyboard

I like the question well enough, but what really intrigued me was my mother-in-law’s problem-solving strategy. In what could best be described as guess-and-check, she would randomly name a state and then test it. “How about Delaware? Does that work? No, the E is in the top row,” she’d realize. “What about New Jersey? No, that’s not it, either.” And so she continued for several minutes.

My sons, on the other hand, asked to borrow my smartphone. “You can’t just look up the answer,” I told them.

“We’re not going to,” Alex said. “We just need to see what a keyboard looks like.” They weren’t sure which letters were in each row.

They immediately realized that there are no vowels in the bottom row of the keyboard, so that wouldn’t work. They also noticed that there are four vowels in the top row, so that could involve a lot of searching. So they decided to focus on the middle row, whose only vowel is an A.

Are there any states with only A and no other vowels? Yes, in fact, there are four of them: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, and Kansas. And maybe there’s a fifth, depending on whether you consider Y as a vowel; if not, then Maryland has only A’s, too.

It’s left as an exercise for the reader to determine which of those is the answer to the Final Jeopardy question.

Alaska Flag

Here’s a keyboard-related joke:

A math professor asked one of his graduate students to step into his office. “I need someone to type a bunch of letters for me,” the professor said, “so I’m going to give you a test.” The professor then pointed to a desk with a computer on it, handed him an article from a local newspaper, and told the grad student to reproduce the article. The grad student open Microsoft Word but, not wanting to become a secretary for the professor, proceeded to type very slowly, hunting and pecking with one finger at a time, and making deliberate errors. The professor stopped him after a few minutes. “That’s perfect,” said the professor. “Come back tomorrow morning and I’ll give you the assignment.”

“But aren’t you going to check my work?” the grad student asked.

“Nah,” said the professor, smiling. “You’re the first one who didn’t open Mathematica as soon as you sat down.”

And here are some other keyboard-related questions:

  1. What’s the longest word that can be typed using the letters from only one row of a keyboard?
  2. What’s the longest word that can be typed using only the left hand?
  3. What’s the longest word that can be typed using only the right hand?
  4. Nearly 90% of humans are right-handed, but our left hands do more of the work when using a keyboard. On average, what percent of letters are typed with the left hand?
  5. What is the third-most used button on a computer keyboard?
  6. If you type 10,000 words on a QWERTY keyboard, approximately how far will your fingers have traveled?
  7. Worldwide, approximately how many times is the space bar pressed every second?
  8. According to Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of email, what was likely the body of the first email message ever sent?


  1. typewriter
  2. stewardesses
  3. polyphony (half-credit for lollipop even though it has one less letter, since it’s far more common than polyphony)
  4. 56%
  5. backspace (behind e and the space bar)
  6. about a mile
  7. 6,000,000, according to Keyshorts
  8. QWERTYUIOP, as part of a test email that Tomlinson sent to himself

July 20, 2017 at 11:51 am Leave a comment

Our Library’s Summer Math Contest

Every summer, our local library runs a contest called The Great Big Brain Game. Young patrons who solve all of the weekly puzzles receive a prize. The second puzzle for Summer 2017 looked like a typical math competition problem:

Last weekend, the weather was perfect, so you decided to go to Cherry Hill Park. When you got there, you saw that half of Falls Church was at the park, too! In addition to all the people on the playground, there were a total of 13 kids riding bicycles and tricycles. If the total number of wheels was 30, how many tricycles were there?


A tricycle has 3 wheels. (Duh.)

First, some comments about the problem.

  1. I dislike using “you” in math problems. I believe it’s a turn-off to students who can’t see themselves in the situation described. There are enough reasons that kids don’t like math. Why give them another reason to shut down by telling them that they went somewhere they didn’t want to go or that they did something they didn’t want to do?
  2. Word problems are not real-world just because they use a local context, and this one is no exception. This problem attempts to show an application for a system of linear equations, but true real-world problems don’t have all the information neatly packaged like this.
  3. Wouldn’t the person posing this problem already have access to the information they seek? That is, if she counted the number of kids riding bikes and the total number of wheels, couldn’t she have just counted the number of bicycles and tricycles instead? It has always struck me as strange when the (implied) narrator of a math problem wants you to figure out something they already know.

All that said, this was meant to be a fun puzzle for a summer contest, and I don’t mean to scold the library. I don’t know that I’d use this puzzle in a classroom — at least, not presented exactly like this — but I love that kids in my town have an opportunity to do some math in June, July, and August.

Now, I’ll offer some comments on the solution. In particular, the solution provided by the library was different than the method used by one of my sons. Here’s what the library did:

Imagine that all 13 kids were on bicycles with 2 wheels. That would be a total of 26 wheels. But since 30 wheels are needed, there are 4 extra wheels. If you add each of those extra wheels to a bicycle, that’ll create 4 tricycles, leaving 9 bicycles. So, there must have been 4 tricycles at Cherry Hill Park.

And here’s what my son did:

2017 Brain Game Puzzle 2

If you can’t see what he wrote, he created a system of two equations and then solved it:

2a + 3b = 30
a + b = 13

a + 2b = 17
13 – b + 2b = 17
b = 4

2a + 12 = 30
2a = 18
a = 9

That’s all well and good. In fact, it’s perfect if you want to assess my son’s ability to translate a problem and solve a system of equations. But I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. What bums me out is that he went straight to a symbolic algorithm instead of considering alternatives.

I think I know the reason for this. This past year, my son was in a pull-out math program, in which he studied math with someone other than his regular classroom teacher. In this special class, the teacher focused on preparing him to take Algebra II in sixth grade when he enters middle school. Consequently, students in the pull-out class spent the past year learning basic algebra. My fear is that they focused almost exclusively on symbolic manipulation and, as my former boss liked to say, “Algebra teachers are too symbol-minded.”

A key trait of effective problem solvers is flexibility. That type of flexibility comes from solving many problems and filling your toolbox with a variety of strategies. My worry — and this isn’t just a concern for my son, but for every math student in the country — is that students learn algorithms at the expense of more useful problem-solving heuristics. What happens when my son is presented with a problem that can’t be translated into a system of linear equations? Will he know what to do when he doesn’t know what to do?

The previous pull-out teacher said that when she presented my sons with problems that they didn’t know how to solve, their eyes would light up. They liked the challenge of doing something they hadn’t done before. I’m hopeful that this enthusiasm isn’t lost as they proceed to higher levels of mathematics.

July 14, 2017 at 7:00 am 2 comments

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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.

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