Archive for June, 2010

A Perfect Day

My sons have a cool birthday: May 2, 2007. It can be written as 5/2/07, and of course 5 + 2 = 7. It’s good that it has such a memorable pattern, because I’m terrible with dates. My wife will surely divorce me if I misstate the date of our anniversary one more time.

But I’m very jealous of my friend Dave, whose son was born three years ago today. How cool is it that his birthday is 6/28?

For those of you who don’t understand why I think that’s cool, consider this: the proper factors of 6 are 1, 2, and 3, and 1 + 2 + 3 = 6; likewise, the proper factors of 28 are 1, 2, 4, 7, and 14, and 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14 = 28. These numbers are called perfect numbers for this very reason — the sum of the proper factors is equal to the number itself.

Seventeen asked 6 and 28, “Don’t you two ever do anything wrong?”
“Nope,” they said. “We’re perfect!”

My love is mathematics, but my addiction is ultimate frisbee. I’ve played for 17 years, and my uniform number has always been 28.

A few years ago, I joined a new team, and the captain of the team asked us to email him our request for uniform numbers. Of course, I emailed and asked for 28.

He responded a few minutes later to say that 28 was his number, and I’d have to choose another.

I was dismayed, but I had a back-up plan. I emailed back and requested 6.

He responded again, saying that 6 was taken, too. Egads!

That weekend, we had our first tournament. I noticed that my teammate James was wearing number 6.

I walked over to him and asked casually, “Why did you choose 6 as your uniform number?”

I’m not sure why I asked, or what answer I expected. But his response was the greatest sentence ever spoken to me.

“Because 28 was already taken,” he said.

I didn’t like that I was relegated to my third choice for uniform number, but somehow his response made it all seem okay.

June 28, 2010 at 12:01 am 3 comments

Political Trivia and Humor

I stumbled across the maps of the problematic blog last week, which claimed the U.S. Senate was no longer necessary. It was part of a list of eleven unnecessary things, actually. The list also included phone books, beepers, the Electoral College, and pocket calculators. The author claimed that the Senate gives just 18% of the U.S. population the power to stop a bill from passing Congress. That is, if 50 Senators vote “no” to a bill, then it fails, and the 25 least populous states represent just 18% of the population. I didn’t check the author’s math, but I’ve heard similar estimates before, so 18% sounds reasonable to me.

Interestingly, the author implied that the Senate might have been necessary when it was first created, to give a voice to smaller states. This made me wonder — when Congress first began enacting law in 1789, what percent of the U.S. population had the power to stop a bill?

The first Congress had only 24 Senators from 12 states. (Rhode Island originally rejected the Constitution in 1788, delaying ratification until May 1790, when the federal government threatened to treat them as a foreign government.) Consequently, the Senators from six states had the power to stop a bill.

The populations (in thousands) of the 12 states with Senators in 1789:

  • Conecticut: 237
  • Delaware: 59
  • Georgia: 82
  • Maryland: 96
  • Massachusetts: 379
  • New Hampshire: 142
  • New Jersey: 184
  • New York: 340
  • North Carolina: 393
  • Pennsylvania: 434
  • South Carolina: 249
  • Virginia: 747

The total population (in thousands) of those 12 states was 3,342. The total population of the six least populous states was 568. That means that 568/3,342 ≈ 17% of the U.S. population could have stopped a bill in 1789.

Please understand, I’m not arguing that the Senate should be retained or abolished. But by the numbers, it appears that the Senate might have been even less necessary in 1789 than it is today.

Anyway, here’s a joke about math and politics:

A cannibal goes to the butcher shop and notices that mathematician brain is selling for $1 a pound, but politician brain is selling for $4 a pound. “Is the politician brain really that much better?” she asks the butcher.

“Not really,” he says. “But it takes a whole lot more politicians to make a pound.”

June 26, 2010 at 11:53 pm 1 comment

Twin Pi Day

Today (June 23) around 7:41 a.m. and 8:05 a.m., respectively, my twin boys passed 3.1415926 years! My wife didn’t think it was a milestone worthy of celebration, but 154 days ago, I missed the chance to celebrate their e birthday, and I wasn’t going to let another opportunity slip away. This morning, we celebrated with circular pancakes for breakfast, and we had pizza for lunch. Which reminds me of a joke…

What is the volume of a disk with radius z and height a? pi · z · z · a

At lunch, I planned to explain pi to the boys. I wrote the letters p and i on a piece of paper and set the paper on the table, and Eli asked, “Daddy, why did you put pee on the table?” That was the end of the lesson. (It was funny to me that he’d pronounce it this way, since the i at the end of his name makes a long i sound. But then I thought of some other words he knows — such as ski, mi (Spanish for my), and his friend Ani (pronounced ahnee) from school — and realized his mistake was completely understandable.

In regards to mispronunciation, here’s a thought to ponder.

Ya ever wonder how Euler pronounced Euclid?

June 23, 2010 at 6:45 pm Leave a comment

Book Signing in Colorado Springs – Sat, June 26

Will you or someone you know be in Colorado Springs this weekend? So will I! I’m doing a book signing at Borders Southgate. Details below.

Booksigning at Southgate Borders – Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks
Why is 6 afraid of 7? How many mathematicians does it take to screw in a light bulb? What type of lingerie does a mermaid wear to math class? Learn the answer to these and other questions at Borders Southgate on Saturday, June 26, when author Patrick Vennebush will talk about his book, Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks.

Borders Books, Music, Movies & Cafe
2120 Southgate Road
Colorado Springs, CO 80906
(719) 632-6611

Saturday, June 26

June 22, 2010 at 8:41 am Leave a comment

Blog Carnival Redux

The MJ4MF blog was featured in another blog carnival, this one at Ramblings of a Math Mom.

June 19, 2010 at 5:51 pm Leave a comment

Reviewers’ Favorite Jokes

Sol Lederman of Wild About Math said that Math Jokes for Mathy Folks is “117 pages of pure (vs. applied) fun. […] While I’ve heard a number of the jokes already, there were plenty of new ones to give me a chuckle.” He also said that the following joke — which does not appear in MJ4MF — happens to be his favorite:

A farmer was showing his fields to a mathematician and his wife. The mathematician made continual attempts to impress with his intellect, referencing arcane formulas and then doing computations mentally. Frustrated by this, the farmer decided to teach him a lesson. He took them to a field packed with hundreds of cows and said to the mathematician, “If you can guess the exact number of cows in this field, you can have all of them! But if you get it wrong, I get to sleep with your wife!”

The mathematician thought for a moment, his eyes quickly scanning the entire field. Finally he said, “228.”

The farmer was stunned. “How on Earth did you do that?” he asked. ”There’s no way you could have counted all those cows so quickly!”

“You’re right,” the mathematician replied. “‘I counted their legs and then divided by 4.”

A review of the book also appears on MAA Reviews by Fernando Q. Gouvea, who said, “Several jokes appear slightly differently from the way I’ve heard them, which is par for the course: jokes are folk literature, and they change as they move from one person to the next.” I couldn’t agree more. If you tell a joke, you should make it your own.

Dr. Gouvea went on to say, “…if you like mathematical jokes, you might enjoy having a copy,” and he said the following joke was his favorite:

Q: How many topologists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Just one. But what will you do with the doughnut? 

June 16, 2010 at 6:59 am Leave a comment


A friend of mine was recently lamenting all of the budget cuts that are happening at her school. She’s a high school math teacher, and I know she’s not alone in feeling frustrated. Here’s a joke for all the teachers out there who are experiencing similar frustrations:

Q: How many administrators does it take to change a light bulb?

A: What was wrong with the old one?

And speaking of folks who don’t like to throw things away…

When the dean of the engineering school requested more money for supplies, the university president sent him the following reply: “I don’t understand why you always need more equipment. Why can’t you be more like the math department? All they want is paper, pencils, and wastebaskets. Or maybe you could try to be like the philosophy department — all they need is paper and pencils!”

June 14, 2010 at 11:05 pm Leave a comment

One of My Favorite Stories

I heard a joke tonight about a slide rule that reminded me of my favorite story. First, the slide rule joke…

Several engineering students are taking a final. One of them is cheating and brought a slide rule to the exam.
“Hey,” the student next to him whispers. “Can you help me? What’s 3 × 6?”
The cheater reaches for his slide rule, and after a few seconds he replies, “19.”
“Are you sure?” asks the other.
The cheater again reaches for his slide rule, and after another few seconds he replies, “You’re right. It’s closer to 18… 18.3, to be precise.”

Yes, I know I’m dating myself by telling a slide rule joke. But honestly, I only know them from lore. I’ve seen them, and I understand how they work, but I’ve never actually used one for calculating.

Slide rules are a thing of the past, but math buffs have a fascination with them. One of my favorite stories is from Rick Wertheimer, perhaps the greatest math teacher ever from Pittsburgh. The following story, which may be apocryphal, is told exactly as I remember hearing it from Rick a decade-and-a-half ago.

Rick was getting a tour of a Hewlett-Packard facility. His guide shows him a room where there’s a bunch of old equipment — cathode ray tubes, punch cards, and lots of other outdated things. In one corner are two six-foot long slide rules that were designed for classroom use. Each has two hooks, and they were meant be hung at the top of the chalkboard for demonstration purposes — a teacher could use them to show students how the slides can be moved to perform calculations.

Rick says to his guide, “Can I have those?” After checking with some managers, the guide tells Rick that he can take them.

So, Rick takes both of them, one for his own collection, and one for his brother. On a trip to Washington, DC, he goes to his brother’s office at the Department of Defense, and on his shoulder he’s carrying the slide rule. As he walks in the door, the security guard stops him. Gruffly, the guard asks, “What’s that?”

“It’s a slide rule,” Rick says.

“Let me see it,” the guard says. When Rick hands it to him, the guard spends a few seconds inspecting it, and then starts moving the slides around.

Rick is a little puzzled by this. “What are you doing?” Rick finally asks.

And the guard says, “Clearing the data.”

June 10, 2010 at 7:34 am 1 comment

Baseball Probability

I happen to love sports. I’m a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I’ll attend any baseball game I can get tickets to, and don’t even think about calling my house during March Madness or the NBA Finals — I won’t answer the phone.

But if you’re one of those math folks who prefers numbers to games, here’s a primer on recent events, as well as a joke you can tell at the next math department happy hour if the conversation turns to sports.

A perfect game in baseball is one in which a pitcher retires every batter he faces. No players get on base during the entire game — no hits, and no walks. Twenty-seven players come to bat, and all 27 of them make an out.

As you might expect, perfect games are extremely rare. There have been only 20 in major league history.

But recently, they seem to be a little less rare. On Sunday, May 9, pitcher Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s threw a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Just 22 days later, Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies was perfect against the Florida Marlins. And 4 days after that, Armando Galarraga of the Chicago White Sox threw what has been officially ruled a one-hit shut-out… but because of an incorrect call by one of the umpires, most folks think it should count as a perfect game.

Two perfect games in a month is astonishing. Three perfect games in a month is nearly impossible. Don Leypoldt of Hardball Times claims that the odds of throwing three perfect games in a month are approximately 2,000,000 to 1.

But perfect games are not the most rare events in baseball. Can you name at least two single-game events that are less likely? (Of course, some events are completely impossible — such as a cow hitting a home run off a curveball thrown by a left-handed pig because, as we all know, every pig is right-handed. But by “events that are less likely,” I’m referring to events that have happened more than once, are considered extraordinary, and just aren’t commonplace.) Answers follow the joke below… and I should probably mention that there are way more than two.

The best pitcher on the baseball team failed his math mid-term. His coach, distraught at the possibility of losing his star player, cut a deal with the professor. In the locker room, the coach explained the situation to the pitcher.

“I was able to convince your math professor,” the coach began, “that if you could answer one math question correctly, you wouldn’t have to miss any games. So I’m going to ask you one question, and I need you to focus. If you answer it correctly, you can play in tomorrow’s big game. But if you miss it, you’re academically ineligible until your grades improve.”

“Okay, coach,” the player said. “I’ll do my best.”

“Great,” the coach said. “Here’s your question: What is 2 + 2?”

The player thought for quite some time. Finally, he said hesitantly, “Um, 4?”

“Really?” the coach asked excitedly. “Really? Did you really just say that 2 + 2 is 4?”

Upon hearing this, the other players in the locker room screamed out, “Aw, c’mon, coach… give him another chance!”

A lot of events in baseball are more rare than perfect games:

  • Losing a perfect game on the 27th batter. Armando Galarraga can apparently take solace — he’s the tenth player in MLB history to whom this has happened. But with only 10 occurrences, losing a perfect game on the last batter is more rare than pitching a perfect game.
  • The unassisted triple play. There have only been 15 in Major League history. But like perfect games, they’ve been less rare recently — Troy Tulowitzki completed one in 2007, Asdrubal Cabrera had another in 2008, and Eric Brunlett recorded a game-ending unassisted triple play in 2009.
  • Four or more home runs by the same player in a single game. Only 15 of these, too, just like unassisted triple plays. No player has ever hit five or more home runs in a game.
  • Grounding into four double-plays in a single game. Joe Torre is the only one to hold this distinction. 
  • Stealing six or more bases in a game. Two players stole 7 bases in a game: George Gore (1881) and Billy Hamilton (1894). Five other players have stolen six, a feat that Eddie Collins of the Philadelphia Athletics accomplished twice (on September 11, 1912, and then again 11 days later on September 22, 1912).
  • Three or more triples in a game. George Streif (1885) and Bill Joyce (1897) both had 4 triples in a game, and 12 players have had 3 triples in a game.
  • Twenty strike-outs in a nine-inning game. Only three have done this, the most recent Kerry Wood in 1998.

There are a lot of single-game records that are more rare than perfect games. If you’re interested in other crazy baseball statistics and records, check out the Play Index at

June 8, 2010 at 12:21 am 1 comment

Puzzling Blondes

I pick on blondes in the joke below, mainly because my wife is blonde. But my golden rule of joke telling is to personalize the joke for your audience — so feel free to replace blondes with graduate students, liberal arts majors, math professors, or whatever other group you happen to be speaking to.

Two blondes walk into a bar and order two shots. They clink the glasses, yell, “Four weeks!” give each other a high five, and throw back the shots.

They order two more. The bartender obliges. Again, they yell, “Four weeks!” and throw back the shots.

They order another two. The bartender says he’ll be happy to pour them another round, but first he’d like to know what they’re celebrating.

“We finished a jigsaw puzzle in four weeks!” explains one of them.

The bartender is confused. “And…?” he asks.

The other exclaims, “The box says 3–6 years!”

June 7, 2010 at 12:16 am Leave a comment

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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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June 2010

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