Archive for December, 2010

Breaking News

A mathematician was arrested for murder and was sent to trial by jury. At the trial, he pled guilty, yet the jury still returned a verdict of “innocent.”

“How on Earth did you reach that verdict?” asked the judge. “For God’s sake, he pled guilty!”

“You don’t know him like we do, your honor,” said the foreman of the jury. “Several of us were students in his classes, and you can’t believe a word out of his mouth!”

(Of course, everyone knows that a mathematician is often wrong but seldom in doubt.)

Later, the same mathematician was arrested for grand larceny. He and an assistant professor were working together to steal funds from the department budget. As the mastermind of the crime, the mathematician was sentenced to 25 years in jail. The assistant professor was sentenced to 20 years. When the two of them were taken to their cell at the state penitentiary, the mathematician said to the assistant, “You take the bunk nearer the door, since you’ll be released sooner.”

December 13, 2010 at 10:14 am Leave a comment

Lost in Translation

Lots of things in life are non-commutative. For instance, getting dressed. You typically put on your underwear and then your pants; unless you’re my Alzheimer’s-afflicted neighbor, you likely wouldn’t do it the other way around.

Teacher: What’s 9 × 6?
Student: 54!
Teacher: Great! And what’s 6 × 9?
Student: 45!

As Chad Lower indicated in his comment to the recent post Qatar, Afar, translation devices are also non‑commutative. In the post, I gave the Arabic translation for “Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, 40 rials.” When the translated text is entered into an Arabic-English translator, the following is the result:

Mathematical Jokes Four Residents Mathe, SR 40

Of course, Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks may be difficult to translate to any language. But similar results occur when more common idioms are double translated. For instance, when “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” was translated to Russian and then back to English, the result was:

Management around a similar chicken with its disconnected head

Although the result was reasonable — “running” was replaced by “management,” “like” was replaced by “similar,” and “cut off” was “disconnected” — the final product doesn’t make much sense.

In his 1993 book Comic Sections, author Desmond MacHale predicted this problem:

One of the problems that may face future generations of mathematicians is the task of translating languages using the computer. A good way of testing the efficiency of such programs is to take a given phrase; translate it into, say, Russian; translate it back again using the inverse program; and, compare the output with the original. Here are a few examples:

Out of sight, out of mind → blind lunatic

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak → The whiskey is okay but the meat is rotten

Seventeen years later, we can test Professor MacHale’s prognostication. Can you identify the common English idioms that gave the following results when double translated?

  • In desperate position
  • Do not awake valiantly while sleeps silently
  • The bird in a hand costs two bushes
  • Last, but not in the last instance
  • Six of a floor and a dozen from another
  • Behind of these eight spheres
  • After bitten, twice timid
  • The smaller of two harms
  • To feel similarly to one million dollars
  • Two pushes of a tail of the lamb
  • Two bricks, timid from a cargo
  • Decorated to ??????? (the translator actually gave a bunch of question marks, apparently unsure of how to deal with what had been entered)
  • Generally, if to reflect
  • First class
  • First class (yes, this is deliberate, because two different idioms gave the same result)

Hint: All but the first two idioms on the list above involve numbers.

The answers follow some spoiler space below.


Original Idiom Result of Translating from English to Russian then Back to English
Between a rock and a hard place In desperate position
Let sleeping dogs lie Do not awake valiantly while sleeps silently
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush The bird in a hand costs two bushes
Last but not least Last, but not in the last instance
Six of one and a half dozen of the other Six of a floor and a dozen from another
Behind the eight ball Behind of these eight spheres
Once bitten, twice shy After bitten, twice timid
The lesser of two evils The smaller of two harms
Feel like a million bucks To feel similarly to one million dollars
Two shakes of a lamb’s tail Two pushes of a tail of the lamb
Two bricks shy of a load Two bricks, timid from a cargo
Dressed to the nines Decorated to ???????
On second thought Generally, if to reflect
Second to none First class
First class First class

December 11, 2010 at 12:15 am 1 comment

MJ4MF on Bookviews

Alan Caruba, author of Bookviews, chose Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks as a December pick of the month:

“It takes all types” is the common cliché, and people whose lives revolve around the use of math are a type unto themselves. That’s why G. Patrick Vennebush has collected Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks […] Teachers in particular will enjoy and want to use this book, of course, but it will provide lots of laughs for anyone else whose work involves working the numbers. It is also proof they can be very funny, too.

Thanks, Alan!

His review also said, “[Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks] is a great stocking-stuffer.” There are only 10 shopping days left until Christmas. Have you bought a copy of MJ4MF for the geeks on your holiday list?

Q: What’s purple, round, and doesn’t get much for Christmas?
A: A finitely presented grape.

Q: An interesting mathematician, an extroverted actuary, and Santa Claus were walking together on a city sidewalk when they noticed a $20 bill on the ground. Who picked it up? 
A: Santa, of course — because the other two don’t exist!

Q (no A): If you multiply Santa by i, does that make him real?

December 8, 2010 at 8:14 am Leave a comment

Qatar, Afar

As the Online Projects Manager for NCTM, I have the privilege of managing the Illuminations project. Illuminations was recently selected as a finalist for a World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Award from the Qatar Foundation. Consequently, I have been invited to attend the WISE Summit in Doha, Qatar, from December 7-9, all expenses paid. While there, I will have the pleasuse of meeting Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned and interacting with education dignitaries from around the globe. I’m very excited to experience the “the unforced fusion of modernity and traditionalism” ( in Doha.

30 Finalists for the WISE Award 

To prepare for my trip, I did some research about Qatar. Through the power of the web, I located a joke that was described as “a very classic Qatari joke.”

The Emir of Qatar was visiting with the president of China.
The Emir asks, “What’s the population of China?”
The Chinese president responds, “One billion. What about Qatar?”
The Emir says, “The population of Qatar is only 250,000 people.”
The Chinese president asks, “And in which hotel are they staying?”

Interestingly, there are more than 1,000,000 residents in Qatar, but nearly ¾ are expatriates living and working in Doha. The ratio of men to women is 3:1, largely explained by the predominantly male expatriate workforce.

I’ve heard that the Qatari people have a sense of humor and a love of mathematics. Consequently, I’ve had a sign made:

طرائف الرياضيات 4 الاهالي ماثي
40 ريال

Translation: “Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, 40 rials!”

(I sure hope Google translated that correctly!)

December 5, 2010 at 7:22 am 2 comments

Rank Math Trick

The Amazon sales rank for Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks fluctuates between 20,000 and 300,000. The highest rank to date was 11,394, which occurred July 7, 2010, the morning after a review of the book appeared in Maria Miller’s Homeschool Math Blog and in her email newsletter.

Today, the Amazon sales rank was 113,113. Cool number, eh? Reminds me of an arithmetrick:

  • Take a three‑digit number abc. Then, write it twice to make a six‑digit number abc,abc. (For instance, if you chose 113, then your six‑digit number would be 113,113.)
  • I’m feeling lucky, so divide by 7.
  • Hmm… I’m not feeling quite as lucky now, so divide by 11.
  • Uh-oh. I no longer feel lucky at all. Divide by 13.
  • Check your result. Should be the three‑digit number you started with, abc.

The following joke is a hint to why this trick works, in case you haven’t already figured it out:

Teacher: Can you find the prime factorization of 1,001?
Student: I didn’t even know it was lost!

December 3, 2010 at 7:04 am 1 comment

Final Exam

You’ve paid attention in class. You’ve taken copious notes.
You’ve read Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks from cover to cover… twice.
You’ve tried several practice exams.

If you’ve done all that, then you’re ready for the MJ4MF Final Examination.

Download the MJ4MF Final Exam (PDF)

You have 50 minutes to complete the exam. Good luck!

If you’re a classroom teacher, the dread day-before-break is fast approaching. The MJ4MF Final Exam is a great activity for students who have too much energy to sit still and too little focus to learn anything. (Permission is granted for the MJ4MF Final Exam to be used with students for non-commercial educational purposes.)

The answer key and a copy of the exam can be found at

December 1, 2010 at 12:01 am 2 comments

Newer 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

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