## Archive for January, 2014

### Go to Vegas, Saul

Saul is a statistician. He leads a comfortable life — he has tenure at a respected university, an impressive list of publications to his credit, and the admiration of his colleagues. Less than a year from retirement, he hears a voice from above. “Saul, quit your job,” the voice says.

He ignores it.

The next day, the voice returns. “Saul, quit your job.” And the next day. And the day after that. And it becomes more frequent, occupying most of his waking hours as well as his dreams. “Saul, quit your job.”

It continues relentlessly for months. “Enough already!” Saul shouts when he can take no more. He delivers a letter of resignation to his dean that morning.

“Saul, take your life savings out of the bank.”

*I’m not taking out my money*, Saul thinks. But the voice continues relentlessly. “Saul, take your life savings out of the bank.”

After several sleepless nights, he finally gives in. “Now what?” he asks.

“Saul, go to Vegas.”

He buys a ticket to Vegas. When he arrives, the voice tells him, “Saul, go to the blackjack table.”

He obeys.

“Saul, bet all of your money on one hand.”

“That’s insane!” he shouts.

“Saul, bet all of your money on one hand.”

He knows that the voice will continue if he doesn’t listen, so he does it.

He’s dealt an 8 and a king. 18. The dealer is showing a 6.

“Saul, take a card.”

“But the dealer has…”

“Saul, take a card.”

“But the laws of probability…”

“Saul, take a card!”

He takes a card reluctantly. It’s an ace. 19. He sighs relief.

“Saul, take another card.”

“C’mon!”

“Saul, take another card!”

He takes another card. Another ace. 20.

“Saul, take another card.”

“But I have 20!” he shouts.

“Saul, take another card!”

He shakes his head. “Hit me,” he says sheepishly. A third ace. 21.

And the voice booms, “Un-fucking-believable!”

### Happy Pie Day!

Yes, I know you probably think I’m jumping the gun by 50 days, and you probably think I spelled *pie* wrong, too.

But you’re wrong on both counts. The American Pie Council (who knew there was a pie council?) has declared that January 23 is National Pie Day.

So let’s celebrate!

Grab a fork!

Grab a friend!

And grab a slice of life!

As for hokey-ness, National Pie Day outdoes Pi Day in its choice of date. The APC chose 1/23 for National Pie Day because the phrase

Easy as pie!

is synonymous with

Easy as 1-2-3!

And here’s a crazy fact about pies: In 1644, Oliver Cromwell banned pies as a pagan form of pleasure, and the ban lasted for 16 years. Which means that Oliver Cromwell nudges out the Anti-Saloon League as the winner of the stupidest prohibition in history.

But you didn’t come here for pie facts, you came here for pie jokes, right? So let’s get on with it.

Why did the pie go to the dentist?

Because it needed a filling.Who led mathematicians out of Hamelin?

The π-ed π-per!An infinity of mathematicians walked into a bakery. The first one ordered a slice. The second one ordered half a slice. The third one ordered a quarter slice. And so on. The baker said, “You’re all idiots,” and gave them two slices.

The police were waiting for me when I got home. “I’m sorry,” said one of the officers. “Your wife went to the bakery, bought two pies, ate one of them, and dropped dead on the sidewalk.”

I said, “That’s terrible. What happened to the other pie?”The boss was upset at my co-worker for making a math error in a report. Trying to belittle him at a meeting, the boss asked my co-worker, “If you had four apple pies, and I asked for one of them, how many would you have left?”

“I’d have four pies,” he answered.

The boss said, “See, those are the kinds of mistakes that are ruining our business!”

My co-worker said, “It wasn’t a mistake. You’re an a**hole, and you’re not getting any of my pies!”

### If Martin Luther King, Jr., Were a Mathematician

I have a dream that one day all nations will use mathematics for good, not only to impose a tax on the mathematically illiterate with state-run lotteries, but to make efficient use of scarce resources to feed the homeless, to build effective levees, and — God willing — to create lemonade that stays cold without ice cubes.

I have a dream that one day at Georgia Polytechnic Institute, the sons of algebraists and the daughters of geometers will be able to sit down together and understand one another.

I have a dream that one day even the University of Mississippi, an institution whose professors forbid the use of graphing calculators on final exams, will be transformed by the methods of Laplace and Fourier.

I have a dream that my children will not be judged by the color of their skin or the tuition paid for their private school education, but by their ability to recite the digits of π to a thousand decimal places.

I have a *dream* today!

I have a dream that one day, at the University of Alabama, with all of its numerical analysts, with its math department chairs speaking words like *interpolation* and *null hypothesis* — that one day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and ask each other, “Why is 6 afraid of 7?” or “What do you call a two-headed canary?” or “What is the square root of 69?”

I have a *dream* today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be parabolic, and every mountain shall be conical, the rough places will be transformed to smooth surfaces, and the crooked curves will be made linear; and the glory of mathematics shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

### How SEO is Killing Good Jokes

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of increasing the rank of a web page within search results. It’s what causes bloggers to include the names Ted Cruz, Malala Yousafzai, and Lady Gaga, or the terms *404*, *fail*, and *boobs*, in a post (sort of like I just did).

There’s an old joke about Einstein, Newton and Pascal playing hide-and-seek, but here’s the same joke as it appears on a shameless site that shall remain nameless:

Pope Francis, Isaac Newton, and Blaise Pascal decide to play hide-and-seek. The Pope closes his eyes, counts to 10, then starts looking for the others. Pascal is nowhere to be found, but Newton is standing directly in front of Pope Francis. There is a one-meter by one-meter box drawn on the ground in chalk, and Newton is standing inside it.

The Pope says, “Newton, you’re terrible at this game! I’ve found you.”

“No, you haven’t,” says Newton. “You’ve found Pascal — I’m one Newton per square meter!”

Perhaps you’re unaware, but Pope Francis was the most popular person on the Interwebs in 2013. He was followed closely by Edward Snowden and Kate Middleton. (Whereas Ed was just a flash in the pan, Frank and Kate will likely have staying power.)

Admittedly, the joke isn’t all that funny with Einstein, either, but it’s even less funny with Pope Francis.

Yet people are doing similar things all over the place. They’re trying to improve their rank by inserting the name of a celebrity here or a current event there. Here’s just a sampling of the kind of stuff you can find online these days:

Miley Cyrus was kicked out of math class for too many infractions.

Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, and Jeffrey Skilling were asked what 2 + 2 is. Swift said, “I don’t know,” and she meant it. Mars said, “4.” And Skilling said, “What would you like it to be?”

Dick Cheney, Jim Porter, and Justin Bieber are duck hunting. Cheney shoots at a duck and misses 6 inches too high. Porter shoots and misses 6 inches too low. Bieber shouts, “We got it! We got it!”

What does Jeff Kinney do when he’s constipated?

Works it out with a pencil.Flo (from Progressive Insurance): Why was the math book sad?

George Clooney: Because it had so many problems.Madonna was trying to measure a flag pole. She only had a measuring tape, and she was getting frustrated trying to slide the tape up the pole. Stephen Spielberg walks by and offers to help. He removes the pole from the ground, lays it down, and measures it easily. When he leaves, Madonna turns to Guy Ritchie and says, “That’s just like Spielberg! We need to know its height, and he gives us its length!”

There’s a good chance that this post will be the top-ranked page on Google tomorrow…

### Variations on a Theme

Three variations of one of my favorite puzzles. The first is silly; the second is doable; and, the third will take a little bit of jiggering. I don’t know where I first saw this puzzle, but I’m pretty sure the version with ten blanks is in *Gödel, Escher, Bach*.

Instructions: Place numerals in the blanks to make the sentence true.

This version is for little kids. Or is it?

There are __ zeroes and __ ones in this sentence.

I’m fairly certain there are no solutions when this is extended to three blanks, but four blanks will work:

There are __ zeroes, __ ones, __ twos, and __ threes in this sentence.

It works with seven blanks (when the greatest digit is six), but that’s not much different than the one above. The piece de la resistance is the one with ten blanks:

There are __ zeroes, __ ones, __ twos, __ threes, __ fours, __ fives, __ sixes, __ sevens, __ eights, and __ nines in this sentence.

Have fun!

### Not Good at Math Games

My wife and I often host Tot-Tails, a neighborhood party where all parents with tots gather to have cocktails while our kids play with one another. It’s a fun time, but at the end of these evenings, we often have parents who are not in great shape for the bedtime routine that will follow, especially since many of the tots have consumed a greater-than-recommended amount of sugar.

We hosted such a party on New Year’s Eve.

At the end of the night, most of the kids were in whirling-dervish mode, hopped up on artificial sweeteners and flying through our house at warp speed. As host, I felt responsible to quiet them before sending them home to bed, so I invited all the kids to sit on the floor in our living room and play a game with me.

I asked Alex and Eli to explain one of our favorite games, which has the following rules:

- On the count of 1-2-3, each person “throws” any number of fingers from 0 to 5. (Like Rock-Paper-Scissors, where players throw rock, paper, or scissors.)
- The winner is the person who throws the least fingers that is not thrown by anyone else.

For example, if two players throw 3 fingers, they cancel each other out, and a third player who throws 5 fingers would win.

You may recognize this game as a variation of My Favorite Game, with the difference being that this game limits the user input to numbers 0‑5.

Folks who play Ultimate Frisbee use the alternative name Rochambeau (or Roshambo, or Row-Sham-Bow) for the game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Similarly, my sons and I call this game **Low-Sham-Bow**, since a low throw wins.

I find Low-Sham-Bow to be preferable to Rock-Paper-Scissors when one person needs to be chosen from a large group. Rock-Paper-Scissors is a two-player game, so it’s a good game for couples to use when they disagree on where to have dinner; but Low-Sham-Bow can be played by any number of folks, so it’ a good game when five siblings are trying to decide who gets the last cookie in the jar.

So, the kids and I sat down to play the game.

The first round, five-year-old Stephen threw 2 fingers, while every other kid threw 0 fingers. I congratulated Stephen on his win, and I gave him a quarter.

This got the other kids’ attention.

We then played several more rounds, and most of the kids won a quarter legitimately. Those who didn’t win a quarter were given one “for being good players.”

The game served its intended purpose. By the end, all kids were reasonably calm, and the parents seemed to be grateful for my efforts.

As folks started filing out, four-year-old Leo showed me his quarter. “I got this for winning a game,” he said.

“I know,” I said.

He looked at my empty hands. “You don’t have a quarter,” he said, and then added, **“You must not be very good at games.”**

Ha-rumph.

### A 1-Derful Post for 1/1

My sons have refrigerator magnets with digits and binary operators, which they use to create expressions, equations, and dates. Recently, they created the following equation:

1 + 1 ÷ 1 – 1 × 1 = 1

They asked if it was correct. *Oh, no, that’s not how things work in this house.* “You tell me,” I said.

Eli said, “One plus one is two, divided by one is two, minus one is one, times one is one. It’s true.”

Anyone who teaches middle school has seen students make this type of order of operations error. The equation is true if operations are performed left-to-right but not if the conventional order of operations is applied.

On a calculator, I entered

1 + 2 ÷ 2

and asked, “What is the value of this expression?” Sure enough, they thought it would be three-halves, and they were surprised to see two displayed when the ENTER key was pressed.

Eli looked puzzled, and Alex looked cross. “Oh, right,” said Alex. “We have to do multiplication and division first.”

They then concluded that their equation was indeed true, and this time for the right reasons.

But it made me wonder:

What is the probability that the following equation will be true, if the four binary operators are randomly placed in the blanks with each operator used only once?

1 __ 1 __ 1 __ 1 __ 1 = 1

I’ll tell you that (a) I was surprised by the results and (b) I didn’t have to check every possible equation to arrive at the answer; in fact, I didn’t even have to check a quarter of them.

Surgeon: I have so many patients to see today! Who should I do surgery on first?

Nurse: Follow the order of operations.How many calculus teachers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

0.99999999…