Serious Math, Seriously…
“Patrick, I have to ask you a question,” said Martha. “You have written a book of math jokes… so, how are you so very serious?”
In my 41.82 years, this is the first time that anyone had ever used the word serious to describe anything about me.
Clearly, Martha doesn’t know me.
Then again, perhaps Martha’s perception is based on me doing things like stating my age as a decimal to the nearest hundredths.
Martha and I had only been introduced two days earlier. We were both asked to participate in a quality review session for the Math Snacks project at the Learning Games Lab at NMSU — which, by the way, is a great project; I particularly like the Bad Date video and the Gate video game — so she hadn’t really had much time to get to know me.
But it made me wonder… do other people think I’m too serious, too?
To correct this false perception, here are some non-serious things I’ve done:
- I regularly pretend that one button is broken on my calculator, and then have to figure out alternate methods to calculate the value of long expressions. (On one particularly zany day, I pretended that two buttons were broken. Boy, did that ever lead to some crazy misadventures!)
- One afternoon — when the curtains were not drawn — I danced if no one were watching. The tune that put my backfield in motion? New Math by Tom Lehrer.
- I once used the phrase “backfield in motion” in a math blog post.
- In an academic paper submitted to a prestigious journal, I once reported a result to three significant figures, even though I was well aware that only two significant figures were justified.
- At a bookstore, I paid for a copy of Innumeracy entirely with pennies.
- On my way to a lecture, I asked a passer-by for directions to the lecture hall. She pointed straight ahead… and I turned around and walked the other way.
- I regularly wear a hat that reads, “Shut your πhole.”
- When someone enters the elevator and says, “Seven, please,” I push the 2 and 5 buttons and say, “There ya go. That makes 7.”
- When a telemarketer asks, “How are you doing?” I usually say, “I’m great, thanks. And I’m glad you called, because — boy! — do I have an exciting offer for you! Do you like to laugh? Do you like math? For $12 — or the cost of just two venti, non-fat, no foam, no water, six pump extra, hot chai tea lattes at Starbucks — you can have a personally signed copy of Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks delivered right to your door! That’s right, just $12! How many copies can I put you down for?”
Gee, I sure hope Martha reads this…