Archive for October, 2012

Scary Math Facts for Halloween

Pumpkin Double IntegralIf you laid all the candy corn end-to-end that is sold annually — more than 35 million pounds, according to the National Confectioners Association — it would circle the moon 21 times.

And if you took all the bones from your body and laid them end-to-end… well, you’d be dead.

What is the weight of all the bones in an average human body?
One skele-ton.

What does a vampire teacher give to her students?
A blood test.

Did you hear about the vampire who became a logician?
He studies Boo-lean algebra.

What does a math teacher say to his students on Halloween?
Trig or treat!

And it wouldn’t be Halloween if this one wasn’t included:

What do you get if you divide the circumference of a jack-o-lantern by its diameter?
Pumpkin pi.

October 31, 2012 at 12:18 pm 3 comments

Three, It’s a Magic Number

3Stooges. Tenors. Old Greeks. Blind Mice. R’s. Charlie’s Angels and the Dixie Chicks. Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Yada, yada, yada.

Lots of things come in threes.

The songwriters for Schoolhouse Rock, as well as members of the rock band Blind Melon, knew the power of three.

The human mind seems to have an easier time remembering things in groups of three, and speech writers know that a group of three items will pack more punch than a group of two or four. Winston Churchill used this structure often, and it may be one reason that the Declaration of Independence mentions “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s certainly the reason that I, on the rare occasion when someone asks me to sign their copy of Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, usually write, “live, laugh, learn.”

In writing, the “Rule of Three” is employed all the time, especially in humorous writing. Many jokes contain three elements, under the theory that the first element sets the stage, the second builds tension, and the third delivers the punch line. Like this gem from comedienne Laura Kightlinger:

I can’t think of anything worse after a night of drinking than waking up next to someone and not being able to remember their name, or how you met, or why they’re dead.

Or this one from Drew Carey:

Hate your job? There’s a support group for that. It’s called “everybody,” and they meet at a bar.

It’s also the reason that bars are often walked into by “a rabbi, a minister, and a priest” or “a doctor, a lawyer, and an Indian chief.” And it’s the reason there’s a section in Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks called “Three Dudes” with jokes about “a chemist, a physicist, and a mathematician.” Here’s one of my favorite jokes of this variety.

A pastor, a doctor, and a mathematician were stuck behind a slow foursome while playing golf. The greenskeeper noticed their frustration and explained to them, “The slow group ahead of you is a bunch of blind firemen. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free.”

The pastor responded, “That’s terrible! I’ll say a prayer for them.”

The doctor said, “I’ll contact my ophthalmologist friends and see if there isn’t something that can be done for them.”

And the mathematician asked, “Why can’t these guys play at night?”

October 25, 2012 at 4:53 am 1 comment

I’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place…

A physicist was arrested for conducting experiments deemed unethical by authorities. He was thrown in jail, and he learned that his cellmate was a mathematician.

“I have to get out of here,” said the physicist. “Is there any way to escape?”

“Sure,” said the mathematician. “There’s a large water pipe in the laundry room that leads past the walls of the prison. You can escape through that pipe.”

Within a week, the physicist escaped through the pipe, just as the mathematician had told him. Unfortunately, it led to the middle of a burning desert, hundreds of miles from anywhere. The physicist wandered through the desert for a few days, but sunburned, parched and hungry, he walked back to the prison and turned himself in. The guards returned him to his cell.

Man In Desert

Upon seeing him, the mathematician said, “I could have told you that escaping by foot was impossible.”

The frustrated physicist yelled, “What? Why didn’t you tell me that sooner?”

The mathematician just shrugged and asked, “Who publishes negative results?”

October 19, 2012 at 4:11 pm Leave a comment

Science Word Game for Road Trips

For your next road trip, a fun, family-friendly game… especially if your family tree has a lot of geeky branches.

Couldn’t be simpler:
Combine abbreviations from the periodic table to create a word.

For instance, you could combine the abbreviations for barium and rutherfordium to make BaRf.

Or use chromium, iodine, titanium, carbon, and aluminum to make CrITiCAl.

Or my current favorite — combine titanium, platinum, oxygen, and einsteinium to form TiPtOEs. How fun!

Post your longest words in the comments. (If you choose to write a computer program to find the longest possible word, please don’t spoil everyone else’s fun.)

Uber-geeks will want to use a formula such as

Points = 3 × No. of Letters + 5 × No. of Elements Used

to score the game. And you can if you like; play ten rounds, and highest score wins. But I say just have fun, make words, and impress everyone riding in the car with you!

You might find the following lists helpful.

Single-Letter Abbreviations:
B, C, F, H, I, K, N, O, P, S, U, V, W, Y

Two-Letter Abbreviations, With A Vowel:
Ac, Ag, Al, Am, Ar, As, At, Au, Ba, Be, Bh, Bi, Bk, Br, Ca, Ce, Co, Cu, Er, Es, Eu, Fe, Ga, Ge, He, Ho, In, Ir, La, Li, Lu, Mo, Na, Ne, Ni, No, Os, Pa, Po, Pu, Ra, Re, Ru, Se, Si, Ta, Te, Ti, Xe

Two-Letter Abbreviations, No Vowel:
Cd, , Cf, Cl, Cm, , Cp, Cr, Cs, Db, Ds, Dy, Fm, Fr, Gd, Hf, Hg, Hs, Kr, Lr, Md, Mg, Mn, Mt, Nb, Nd, Np, Pb, Pd, Pm, Pr, Pt, Rb, Rf, Rg, Rh, Rn, Sb, Sc, Sg, Sm, Sn, Sr, Tb, Tc, Th, Tl, Tm, Yb, Zn, Zr

Three-Letter Abbreviations:
Uuh, Uuo, Uup, Uuq, Uus, Uut

Periodic Table

Click Image for Larger Version

October 17, 2012 at 6:45 pm 2 comments

What are Your 10 Favorite Math Books?

Today is October 10, which seems a great day to talk about Top Ten lists.

(Incidentally, today is also National Metric Day, for what I hope are obvious reasons. But I won’t publish a post about metrication today; I did that last year.)

BookSeveral years ago, J. Peder Zane asked 125 American and British authors to list their 10 favorite works of fiction. He then aggregated the lists and formed the Top 10 Books of All Time.

Perhaps you’ve heard of some of them…

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  7. The Great Gatsby byF. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
  10. Middlemarch by George Eliot

You can also see the authors’ individual lists at Top 10 Books of All Time.

But how sad — not a single math book on the list! Where is Flatland, or Gödel, Escher, Bach, or Riot at the Calc Exam?

In an attempt to give math literature — be it fiction, non-fiction, humor or otherwise — its proper credit, I hope to compile a list of the Top Ten Math Books of All Time. You can contribute to this effort by submitting your favorite math books through the form below. I won’t compile a list until I have at least 100 responses, but then I’ll publish it at Afterwards, I’ll update the list periodically as more responses come in.

If you aren’t able to see the form below, go to the Top 10 Math Books Survey.

And your reward for participating? A humorous Top Ten list for you…

Top Ten Things That Math and Sex Have in Common

  • Explicit discussions of either topic is a faux pas at cocktail parties.
  • Historically, men have been in control, but recent efforts have tried to get women more involved.
  • There are many joint results.
  • Both are prominent on college campuses, and are typically — but not always — practiced indoors.
  • Most people wish they knew more about both subjects.
  • Both can produce interesting topology and geometry.
  • Both deserve undivided attention, but mathematicians are prone to thinking about one while doing the other.
  • Saint Augustine was hostile to both, and Alan Turing took an unusual approach to both.
  • Both typically begin with a lot of hard work and end with a great but brief reward.
  • Professionals are generally regarded with suspicion, and most do not earn a high salary.

October 10, 2012 at 10:19 am 1 comment

Where I’ll Be in October

Seven cities. Four math conferences, a committee meeting, and the USA Ultimate Club Championships. All in 18 days. Yikes.

Yep, October’s going to be very busy for me. During the month, I’ll spend more nights in a hotel bed than in my own bed.

If you happen to find yourself in any of the same locations, be sure to introduce yourself… but please don’t leave before telling me your favorite joke.

Oct 10-12: Dallas, TX
NCTM Regional Conference

You like games? You like fractions? Come to one of my sessions in the Lone Star State.

Friday, 8:30-10:00 a.m., Room D167
Session: Calculation Nation: Game On!

Friday, 12:30-2:00 p.m., C Ballroom 4
Session: Engaging and Free Online Resources for Teaching Operations and Fractions

Oct 12-15: Austin, TX
MathCounts Question Writing Committee Meeting

No doubt, you’d enjoy attending this event — we spend two straight days working problems and talking math. But sorry, this is a closed meeting… we’ll be compiling the tests for the 2013-14 MathCounts competitions, and that’s confidential information.

Oct 15-18: Washington, DC

Home for a couple days before I fly off to…

Oct 18-21: Victoria, BC
Northwest Math Conference

I’m excited for a return trip to NWMC. In 2010 I had an SRO crowd for my math joke hour, so I’m really jazzed to be giving a keynote math joke session this year.

Friday, 12:30-1:45 p.m., Grand Pacific Vancouver Island Centre
Session: Engaging (and Free) Online Resources for the Secondary Classroom

Saturday, 8:00 – 9:30 a.m., Empress Crystal Ballroom
Breakfast Keynote: Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks

Saturday, 10:15-11:30 a.m., Empress Downstairs Balmoral
Session: Engaging (and Free) Online Resources for the Elementary Classroom

Oct 21-22: Vancouver, BC

A few days of R+R before heading to…

Oct 24-26: Greensboro, NC
North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference

Two math joke keynotes in one week? Get outta town! Punz and Puzzles is my favorite talk.

Thursday, 8:30-9:15 a.m., Auditorium 1
Session: To 10 and Beyond Using Free Illuminations Resources

Thursday, 10:15-11:45 a.m., Imperial D
Keynote Presentation: Punz and Puzzles

Oct 25-28: Sarasota, FL
USA Ultimate Club Championships

I play for Chesapeaked, a team with players from Washington, DC, and Philadelphia. We’re in the masters division (age 33+), which thankfully means I won’t have to cover a 21‑year old.

October 8, 2012 at 8:51 pm Leave a comment

Read This Post… Then 86 It

Last week, I was riding train 86 to Philadelphia for business travel. A young coworker was on the same train, and when I mentioned that such a train number seemed inauspicious, she stared at me with a blank look.

“You know, like Maxwell Smart’s agent number,” I said.

Still nothing.

“Like ‘to discard’ or ‘to put the kibosh on’?” I suggested.


Perhaps I’m just too old.

There are many theories as to the derivation of using the number 86 as a verb.

Cecil from The Straight Dope suggests that it derives from a number code used by restaurants in the 1920’s. It supposedly meant, “We’re all out of that,” and it was often the response of a chef or maitre’d when asked by a server for a particular item. Cecil had this to say:

Why 86 and not, say, the square root of 2? The most plausible explanation I’ve heard is that 86 is rhyming slang for “nix.”

The Oxford English Dictionary tentatively states “it seems that” this rhyming etymology is plausible. But with nothing more than an “it seems that” from the OED, this should be considered nothing more than a vague theory.

Some things to know about 86:

  • Not coincidentally, there are 86 days left in 2012.
  • 8610 = 2226
  • 286 is the largest known power of 2 that contains no zeroes
  • 86 = 32 + 42 + 52 + 62

A little research found that other numbers have been used to mean other things:
99: The manager is on the prowl.
98: The assistant manager is on the prowl.
87½: Take a look at that babe over there.
82: I need a glass of water.
69: [You already know.]
68: You gimme one, and I’ll owe ya. (Thanks, George Carlin!)
55: Can I have a root beer, please?
48: All hell breaks loose.
33: Can I have a Cherry Coke, please?
19: Can I have a banana split, please?
13: Throw it in the trash can.
13: To die.
6: A smooth transaction.

October 6, 2012 at 12:42 am Leave a comment

Pizza in the Park

Nationals PizzaYesterday, the Washington Nationals — now my surrogate team, since being a Pirates fan is just too damn painful — finished the 2012 season with the National League East division title.

The day before yesterday, I was at the Nationals-Phillies game. A friend took my sons and me to the game, so in return, I offered to buy dinner at Nationals Park. When I asked his sons what we should get, they answered just as you’d expect any 5- and 9-year-olds to answer: “Pizza!”

I was happy to oblige. I assumed I was getting off cheap.

I was wrong.

At the concession stand, I gasped when I saw that pizza slices were $6 each. Admittedly, they were big slices — an 18″ pizza was divided into 6 slices — but that’s still a lot of money for 42 square inches of pizza. If you think of it as just 14 cents per square inch, it doesn’t feel quite so bad. Until you realize that you could get an entire pie outside the stadium for the cost of 2 slices inside the stadium.

Whatever. The tickets were free, so I ordered a pie. But as I did, I asked the clerk, “Why are pies $36 if slices are $6 each? Shouldn’t there be a discount for buying an entire pizza?” He shrugged his shoulders and gave me the same look I usually get from checkout people when I ask similar questions. His eyes said, “Sorry, dude, I just work here.”

The man behind the counter who was cooking the pizzas must have heard me. When my pie came out of the oven, he used his cutter to divide the pie into 8 slices instead of just 6. I guess he thought I’d feel better if the slices only cost $4.50 each. Never mind that each slice was only 3/4 the size of a regular slice.

Since I felt like I was in the middle of a bad math joke, I figured I ought to deliver the punch line.

“What’d you do that for?” I asked. “I’m not very hungry! There’s no way I’ll be able to eat 8 slices!”

The upside? The Nationals won, 4-2, and they earned the top seed in the playoffs. Go, Nats!

October 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm 1 comment

Book Review: The Joy of x

Steven Strogatz says that by arranging things in the right way, we can make a surprising link seem obvious — the hallmark of an elegant proof.

In particular, he’s talking about arranging a group of rocks — several groups of rocks, actually, each containing an odd number — to show that when you add all of the consecutive odd numbers, starting with 1, the sum is a square number:

1 + 3 = 4
1 + 3 + 5 = 9
1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 16
1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 = 25

I didn’t have to read The Joy of x to know that 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + … + (2n + 1) = n2, and of course I’ve seen the visual proof that Strogatz demonstrated with a group of rocks:

Rock Square

But I don’t think that I had ever heard a definition for the concept of an elegant proof. Therein lies the beauty of Strogatz’s new book: while most of the concepts he covers will be familiar territory for the mathy folks who read this blog, each of the 30 chapters contains a pearl of wisdom, or an interesting factoid, or an eloquent sentence that makes you realize he’s as good with words as he is with numbers.

For instance, you probably didn’t know this about the distribution of heights on the online dating site OkCupid:

…the heights reported by both sexes follow bell curves, as expected. What’s surprising, however, is that both distributions are shifted about two inches to the right of where they should be. So either the people who join OkCupid are unusually tall, or they exaggerate their heights by a couple of inches when describing themselves online.

The chapters within the book are short and, as Strogatz admits, are not dependent on one another. You could start at Chapter 10, “Working Your Quads,” and it wouldn’t matter if you had read any of the nine chapters that precede it.

All in all, The Joy of x is breezy and fun, and while it won’t significantly further the education of a mathematician, it will provide some entertainment. And for the non-mathematician, it provides a nice overview of mathematics “from one to infinity,” covering everything from numbers to geometry to calculus, giving adults a second chance at the subject.

October 2, 2012 at 7:33 am Leave a comment

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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October 2012

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