Archive for April, 2013

Mathy Jokes for Old Folks

The median age of the Reader’s Digest audience is 53.5, and 60% of their audience is female. So if I admitted to you that I’m a regular reader of the magazine, it’d be reasonable for you to assume that I’m an elderly woman.

I’m not.

In the “Laughter, the Best Medicine” column in the April issue of Reader’s Digest, two jokes were mathy. In case you missed them…

People with math anxiety actually feel pain when doing arithmetic, according to a study. The Week asked its readers to name this condition:

  • Fibromyalgebra
  • Arithmia
  • Pi-graine
  • Percentile Dysfunction
  • Add Nauseum
  • Digit-itis

According to a global study, American kids are way behind Asian kids in math and science. But American kids are ahead in buying stuff made by Asian kids. – Conan O’Brien

And in the “Quotable Quotes” column was a relevant quote worth sharing…

The moment you think of a joke is the best moment. – Judd Apatow

April 25, 2013 at 8:30 pm Leave a comment

Jim Rubillo Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Jim RubilloJim Rubillo has been a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematic (NCTM) for more than 1.4 billion seconds. For his four decades of service to improve mathematics education, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 NCTM Annual Meeting.

Jim was the Executive Director of NCTM from 2001 to 2009, and he was my supervisor for the last five of those years. But he was more than just my boss — he was also a mentor, friend, and problem-solving companion. So when Ann Lawrence, chair of the Mathematics Education Trust, called to ask me to prepare a tribute video for Jim’s award ceremony, I was honored by the request.

I didn’t want to prepare a talking head video — I have a face for radio — yet I don’t have access to elaborate film equipment. Consequently, I opted to create a PowerPoint presentation with narration, which I then uploaded to authorSTREAM. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure.

Prior to its showing at the awards ceremony, Ann Lawrence mentioned that the tribute video had been created by me. Upon hearing this, Jim murmured, “Oh, no…” (Truth be told, I think I was rather kind.)

One of the many reasons that I loved working with Jim is that he always had a good math problem at the ready. He shared more problems with me than I can count, but here are two of my favorites:

  • What percent of the numbers in Pascal’s Triangle are even?
  • Many years ago, it was believed that the Earth was the center of the cosmos. This was a reasonable hypothesis — it appears that the Sun rotates around the Earth. But if Earth were the center of the solar system (instead of the Sun), and if Mars rotated about the Earth, what would it have appeared that the path of Mars was?

Both of these problems have non-obvious answers, which is a trademark of the problems that Jim likes to share. Jim often looks at things with a unique perspective, and he willingly talks math with anyone who’s willing to listen. Consequently, Jim was an exceptional choice for this award, and I’m proud to call this lifetime achiever my friend.

April 20, 2013 at 11:43 pm Leave a comment

A Drummer Mathematician Walks Into A Bar…

The following message appeared in my spam folder, submitted in response to a post about the math of cousins:

Why do guitarists tell so many one-liners?
So the rest of the band can understand them.

I unspammed the message. Although it isn’t mathy and has absolutely no relevance to the post, who am I to censor humor?


Further, it reminded me of a collection of drummer jokes. Of course, they aren’t mathy, either, but most are pretty funny, and many of them can be made mathematical by replacing drummer with grad student, math professor, or something similar. So, here you go: A bunch of drummer jokes modified to be mathematical, with the original words appearing in parentheses.

(And if you find the jokes just aren’t funny, try this drum sound.)

A son tells his mother, “Mom, when I grow up, I want to go to graduate school (be a drummer).”
The mom scoffs and says, “Sorry, I don’t think you can do both.”

What’s the difference between a grad student (drummer) and a savings bond?
One will mature and make money.

How do you tell if a grad student’s desk (the stage) is level?
The grad student (drummer) is drooling from both sides of his mouth.

What do you call a grad student (drummer) that breaks up with his girlfriend?

How do you get a grad student (drummer) off of your porch?
Pay him for the pizza.

How many mathematicians (drummers) does it take to change a lightbulb?
Five: One to screw the bulb in, and four to talk about how much better Andrew Wiles (Neil Peart) could’ve done it.

How many grad students (drummers) does it take to change a light bulb?
Just one, but only after asking, “Why?”

A mathematician (drummer) died and went to heaven. He was waiting outside the Pearly Gates when he heard the most incredible exposition about mathematics (drumming). He immediately recognized the topic (playing) and asked St. Peter if Pierre Fermat (Buddy Rich) was giving the lecture (playing the drums). St. Peter responded, “No, that’s God. He just thinks he’s Fermat (Buddy Rich).”

What do you call a grad student (drummer) with half a brain?

What does a statistician (drummer) use for contraception?
His personality.

How is a bad math pun (drum solo) like a sneeze?
You know it’s coming, but there’s nothing you can do about it.

What do you call someone who hangs around with mathematicians (musicians)?
A grad student (drummer).

What did the grad student (drummer) get on his problem set (IQ test)?

Did you hear about the math professor (bass player) who locked his keys in his car?
He had to break the window to get his grad assistant (drummer) out!

I asked my grad assistant (a drummer) to spell Mississippi.
He said, “The river or the state?”

What do you call a dozen adjuncts (drummers) at the bottom of the sea?
A good start!

How many grad students (drummers) does it take to wallpaper a room?
Three, but you have to slice them really thin!

What should you call a grad student (drummer)?
It doesn’t matter. It’s not like they’ll listen.

What do grad students (drummers) and a mosquitoes have in common?
They both suck!

April 20, 2013 at 9:44 pm Leave a comment

Venn Would Be Good 4 You?

Given my surname, I suppose it was predestined that I’d like Venn diagrams. But nowadays, it seems that everyone likes them, especially the humorous kind. You can find a whole whack of them at, or just do a Google search for funny Venn diagrams.

Earlier this spring, Reader’s Digest featured 6 Questionable Relationships Stuffed Into Venn Diagrams. I particularly enjoyed this one:

Venn LotteryOf course, it’s based on the idiom “fools and their money soon part,” but it reminds of the following Oscar Wilde quote:

The lottery is a tax on the mathematically challenged.

Though perhaps not as succinct, W. V. O. Quine was more eloquent in describing the phenomenon:

We can applaud the state lottery as a public subsidy of intelligence, for it yields public income that is calculated to lighten the tax burden of us prudent abstainers at the expense of the benighted masses of wishful thinkers.

Not wanting to be left out of all this fun, I decided that I should attempt to create a humorous Venn diagram. How’d I do?

Venn Nots




April 17, 2013 at 2:03 pm Leave a comment

Mathematical Finances

Got a bead of sweat running down your forehead as you frantically race to complete your 1040? Here are a few math finance jokes to relieve the stress.

Financial Trigonometry: If someone asks you to cosine, don’t sine! Instead, go off on a tangent! That’ll save you $40,000!

Financial Algebra: My wife leaves Houston at 8:39 a.m. on a plane bound for Albuquerque. She arrives at 9:42 a.m. and spends the next three days at a hotel with my best man. If she then decides to leave me for him, how long will it take me to pay off the Visa bill from this trip of infidelity, assuming an annual percentage rate of 18.5%? 

Financial Formula: Easiest way to determine your cost of living? Take your income, then add 10%.

And just in case you needed another reason to never trust a financial mathematician…

A pure mathematician asks, “Would $30,000 be too much?”

An applied mathematician asks, “How about $60,000?”

And a financial mathematician says, “How about $300,000? That’d be $135,000 for me, $135,000 for you, and $30,000 for a pure mathematician to do the work.”

April 15, 2013 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Rootin’ Around

The digits of today’s date can be concatenated to make the four-digit number 4913, and 4913 = 173. As it turns out, this is the only date in 2013 for which the concatenation of the digits forms a number that has a square, cube, fourth, fifth, or sixth root that is a whole number.

I’m sure there are more useless pieces of trivia, but I can’t think of one right now.

[Update, 4/9/13: Perhaps the following isn’t more useless, but it’s certainly not more useful, either. I failed to mention the trivial numerology contained within today’s date: 4 + 9 = 13.]

In any case, this fact about the cube root of 4913 got me to thinking about some of my favorite things.

My favorite drink:

Root Beer

My favorite highway:

Root 66

My favorite LeVar Burton movie:


My favorite types of efforts:

Grass Roots

My favorite idiom:

Putting Down Roots

April 9, 2013 at 1:10 am 5 comments

Ratio Celebration

While flipping through the Big Book of Zany Activities from Kidsbook®, my sons came across the following challenge:

 Can you make 25 or more words from the following word?

Alex put pencil to paper immediately and beamed as he wrote the word ratio.

It made me wonder if I could find 25 or more math words within CELEBRATION. Sure enough, I could. My list of 42 words is at the bottom of this post, though admittedly, a rather liberal view of what constitutes a math word is required, and there are even a couple of proper nouns on the list. But even removing the ones that were iffy, I think I still met the requisite number. 

Speaking of ratio, you might be interested in the discussion of the No Slope… Ratio! joke. Though probably not, so here are some other ratio jokes.

A trainer at the gym was asked, “How can I calculate my body fat ratio?”
The trainer responded, “Well, if you have a body and you have fat, the ratio is 1:1. If you have two bodies, the ratio is 2:1. And so on.”

Yo momma is so fat, her ratio of circumference to diameter is 4!

Math Words Within CELEBRATION:

  1. Abel
  2. Ace
  3. Acre
  4. Arc
  5. Bar
  6. Bi
  7. Bin
  8. Bit
  9. Caliber
  10. Cantor
  11. Cent
  12. Center
  13. Coil
  14. Coin
  15. Cone
  16. Election
  17. Eon
  18. Era
  19. Lie
  20. Line
  21. Linear
  22. Loci
  23. Lone
  24. Once
  25. One
  26. Orb
  27. Orbit
  28. Net
  29. Nil
  30. Rate
  31. Real
  32. Recent
  33. Table
  34. Tail
  35. Tare
  36. Teen
  37. Ten
  38. Tic
  39. Tie
  40. Tile
  41. Tree
  42. Trice

April 5, 2013 at 8:56 am Leave a comment

7 Math Mistakes to be Aware Of

April is Math Awareness Month, and some things to be aware of this month — as well as the whole year through — are common math errors. Here are seven that show up frequently.


Incorrect Addition of Fractions. It’s common for kids to add fractions as follows:

\frac{a}{b} + \frac{c}{d} = \frac{a + c}{b + d}

And while that algorithm works for batting averages in baseball, it doesn’t work in most other places. More importantly, this mistake is often unaccompanied by reasoning. For example, a student who claims that 2/3 + 4/5 = 7/9 doesn’t realize that with each addend greater than 1/2, then the sum should be greater than 1. That lack of thought bothers me.

Cancellation of Digits, Not Factors. While it’s true that 16/64 = 1/4 and 19/95 = 1/5, students who think the algorithm involves cancelling digits may also argue that 13/39 = 1/9, and that just ain’t right.

Incorrect Distribution. This one takes a lot of forms. In middle school, kids will say that 4(2 + 3) = 8 + 3. As they get older, they apply the distributive property to exponents and claim that (3 + 4)2 = 32 + 42 or, more generally, that (a + b)2 = a2 + b2.

The Retail Law of Close Numbers. A large portion of the population will buy a shirt for $19.99 that they’d pass up if it had a price tag of $20.00. Even though the amounts only differ by one cent, a lesser digit in the tens place makes the price feel much lower. Crazy, but true.

Ignoring the Big Picture. If you are a driver who is interested primarily in speed (and less concerned with price, looks, fuel efficiency, or other factors), would you rather have a vehicle with 305 horsepower or one with 470 horsepower? If you chose the latter option, congratulations! While the owner of a sweet 305-hp Ford Mustang will be sitting at home and sipping a mint julep on his front porch, you’ll still be doing 30 mph on the highway in your Sherman tank.

Correlation Implies Causation. As ice cream sales increase, the number of drowning deaths increases, too. But that doesn’t mean that having an ice cream cone willl make you less likely to swim safely, even if you failed to heed your mother’s advice to wait 30 minutes after eating. It’s just that ice cream sales and swimming-related deaths increase in summer, both of which are to be expected.

Just because two things happen to coincide doesn’t mean that one is the direct (or even indirect) result of the other.

Percents Don’t Work That Way. A 20% decrease followed by a 20% increase does not return you to the initial value. If you invest $100 in a company, and it loses 20% the first year, your investment will then be worth $80. If it gains 20% the next year, you’ll now have $96. Uh-oh.

What common math error do you see frequently, and which one bothers you the most?

April 3, 2013 at 4:09 pm 2 comments

Fishin’ for an April Fools Math Joke

My friend and former boss Jim Rubillo sent me the following email last night:

I am cleaning, and I found this book that you might want: One Million Random Numbers in Ascending Order. Do you want it, or should I throw it away?

Seemed like an odd book, and I thought he might have gotten the title wrong since RAND Corporation published A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates in 1955. (Incidentally, you should visit that book’s page on, where you’ll find many fantastic reviews, such as, “Once you’ve read it from start to finish, you can go back and read it in a different order, and it will make just as much sense as your original read!” from Bob the Frog, and, “…with so many terrific random digits, it’s a shame they didn’t sort them, to make it easier to find the one you’re looking for,” from A Curious Reader.)

Knowing that Jim is a stats guy, it seemed plausible. A little confused, I wrote back:

Is it literally just a list of random numbers? If so, I’ll pass. But if there’s something more interesting about it, then maybe?

His response?

It’s a sequel to The Complete Book of Even Primes.

And so it goes, with April Fools even afflicting the math jokes world.

Thank goodness he didn’t tape a fish to my back.

April 1, 2013 at 5:51 pm Leave a comment

5 Common Grammar Errors

Math sucks. And I don’t mean that in the same way that Jimmy Buffett means it.

I mean, it really sucks. Math is completely devoid of humor. It’s like 7-Up — never had it, never will.

Writing these posts is a grind. Trying to find the funny in math is like trying to find a talented ballet dancer in Camden, New Jersey.

So, I’m officially done with math humor. Henceforth, the Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog will focus entirely on the humor in language.1 Now, there’s a subject that just begs to be made fun of! Someday, when I get the gumption, I’ll officially change the name to something clever, like Grammar Jokes 4 Grammatical Folks or Words 4 Weenies.

But for now, it remains Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, and you’ll just have to tolerate the misnomer.

How’s this for a segue? Have you noticed that people ignore the rules of grammar almost as often as they ignore the rules of algebra? When I taught middle school, the same kid who claimed that (a + b)2 = a2 + b2 was also the one who asked me if I was “being haved.” (As in, the progressive form of behave after it had been dissected into be and have. Ostensibly, haved is an adjective synonymous with good.)

To demonstrate, here are five common grammar errors. For each, I am deferring to higher authorities — web comics such as The Oatmeal, Savage Chickens, and Urban Blah, who can provide better examples than I. (Or, at least, who have done the work of creating such examples long before I thought to do so.)

Literally. Leave it to a metalhead on to write something as dumb as, “…when I heard that [Benighted] would be releasing a new album, I literally had to get a 3.7 kW submersible dewatering pump to drain the drool that had accumulated.”

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised by grammatical missteps on a site promoting bands with names like Pig Axe, Putrefying Cadaverment, and my personal favorite Bowelf**k. (I wish I were making that up.)

As it turns out, some noteworthy grammarians have accepted literally as an adjective that can mean virtually or absolutely. But I tend to side with Daryl L. L. Houston, who wrote:

My knee-jerk reaction remains to sneer at mis(?)use of “literally.” It’s one of those things I’ve sneered at for long enough that it’s a hard habit to break.

Both The Oatmeal and xkcd have something to say about this one.

Irregardless. My father’s favorite word. With prefix ir- (not) and suffix -less (not), this is a double negative that should mean “in regard to.” Alas, it is used as a synonym for regardless, and I can’t hear it without bristling.

I could ramble about this one all night, but Urban Blah is far more succinct (and eloquent) in expressing my position.

Double Negatives. See irregardless above. But also see not uncommon, don’t know nothing, and Toothpaste for Dinner.

They’re / Their / Their. Where are all the directors? They’re over there in their meeting. The Oatmeal classifies the misuse of these homonyms as misspellings, but I think they should be described as misthinkings.

Ellipsis. You want to build melancholy in a novel? The ellipsis is your friend. You want an email correspondent to know that you were thinking while penning a missive? The ellipsis is your nemesis. Show you were thinking by not overusing a grammatical element that conveys a deliberate omission.

If you can’t figure this one out, maybe the Savage Chickens can help you.

1 April Fools. Check back tomorrow for some new (but still not funny) math stuff.

April 1, 2013 at 4:01 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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April 2013

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