Posts tagged ‘combination’

Fortune Bank Teller

One of the radio commercials in the GEICO “Surprising” campaign features a fortune bank teller who dispenses both greenbacks and prognostications. The commercial ends with the teller saying,

I see a yellow light serpent… and a low APR.

What you may also find surprising is that this commercial reminds me of my father-in-law, Julian Block, a nationally known tax expert. Julian used to work for a company that connected advisors to people seeking help. An operator would ask a few questions of each caller and then connect the advisee with an appropriate consultant. Sometimes, however, the advisee would be connected to the wrong expert. And the problem? The company specialized in dispensing two types of advice: tax and psychic.

You may now see why the GEICO commercial reminds me of my father-in-law. When calls were incorrectly routed to him, he would become a de facto psychic tax advisor. I imagine conversations like the following:

Young Woman: My boyfriend just proposed. Should I marry him?

Julian: That depends. What’s his tax bracket?

These combinations — fortune teller and bank teller; psychic advisor and tax advisor — yield rather whimsical new professions. It made me wonder if there were others. Sadly, an hour of brainstorming yielded only a handful of satisfactory results:

Super Hero Intendent, who still has time to fight crime after 8 hours of dealing with stopped-up toilets

Dog Street Walker, who thinks the oldest profession is picking up Spot’s poo

Antique Debt Collector, who will accept payment in Ming vases and pocket watches

Switchboard Lottery Operator, who has a 1-in-500 chance of connecting you to the right person

Social Construction Worker, who can strike up a conversation with anyone while shingling a roof

Foreign Language Flight Instructor, who will teach you how to land safely after you give her the declension for agricola

Got any others you’d add to the list? Post them in the comments.



March 27, 2018 at 10:27 pm 3 comments

Red + Green = Christmas, and 62 Other M&M Color Combinations

‘Tis the holiday season, so every grocery store, pharmacy, and convenience store is now stocking the M&M® Christmas Blend, a joyful combination of red and green button-shaped chocolate candies. It’s unclear whether this mixture actually helps to imbue the holiday spirit, but the consumption of these tasty morsels will make you look just a little more like St. Nick.

M&M Holiday

As far as I’m concerned, the Christmas Blend — not to be confused with Holiday Mint, which uses a (disgusting) mint chocolate filling — is one of just a few acceptable color combinations. Why? Because it uses colors that can only be found in the original Plain M&M packs, which contain red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and brown.

M+M multicolor

The original packs didn’t contain white M&M’s — sorry, Freedom Blend (Fourth of July). The original packs didn’t contain pastel colors — hop on by, Easter Blend. And nowhere on God’s green Earth will it ever be acceptable to use white chocolate inside those delectable candy shells — hit the road, Carrot Cake M&M’s. (Yuck.)

As you can tell, I’m a purist, and I have fairly strong opinions about this.

To my knowledge, there are only two other blends produced by Mars, Inc., that satisfy my acceptability criteria:

  • Harvest Blend: red, yellow, brown
  • Birthday Cake: red, yellow, blue

So, where am I going with all this? Glad you asked.

The Christmas, Harvest, and Birthday Cake blends represent just three of the 63 possible color combinations that can be made from the original six colors. That leaves 60 combinations that are just begging for names.

(A little history. As you may know, I have a quirk. I eat M&M’s in pairs of the same color, so I can place one on each side of my mouth and feel “balanced.” But it’s atypical for a pack to contain an even number of every color. When I near the end, I’m often left with one to six unmatched M&M’s. And I’ve always thought that these various color combinations deserved a name.)

What would you call a combination of red, yellow, and green? Obviously, STOPLIGHT.

What might you call a combination of red, yellow, and blue? Based on the Man of Steel’s outfit, I like SUPERMAN. But Mars, Inc., has already applied the moniker BIRTHDAY CAKE.

What would you call a collection of just green M&M’s? I don’t know — QADDAFI, maybe? (Sorry, dated reference.)

What would you call a combination of orange, green, and brown? I have no idea.

And that’s where you come in.

Below is a Google poll where you can enter a color combination and suggest a name. In early January, for any color combinations that have more than one suggestion, we’ll vote on it. That’s right — crowdsourcing, baby!

But before you scroll and start clicking, let me lay out some ground rules:

  • Keep it clean, please, no worse than PG-13.
  • No sports teams! Why? Because the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins are black and gold… and although yellow is close to gold, there are no black M&M’s in the Plain M&M’s pack, so that combination is not possible. If M&M’s can’t be used to represent my team, then they can’t be used to represent any team. Sorry&nbsp— my game, my rules. Not to mention, nearly every color combination corresponds to at least one sports team, so it also demonstrates a lack of creativity. Unless, of course, you pick the colors of a team from the Swedish Bandyliiga, but let’s be honest — were you really going to do that?

Some time ago, I tried to craft names for all the combinations on my own, but I failed miserably. You can see how far I got on this Google sheet. So you can tell that I really, really need your help.

Have at it, y’all!

If you can’t see the form below, click this link:

Don’t want to goof around with a Google form? Fine. Place your thoughts in the comments.

December 7, 2017 at 5:31 am 2 comments

Codes, Keypads, and Sequences

When my colleague Chris Meador says, “I’ve thought of a math problem,” rest assured that I’ll spend a good portion of that workday trying to find a solution instead of tackling the items on my to-do list.

Last week, he emailed me the following:

My garage door opener has an exterior keypad that allows me to open the door by entering a 5‑digit number. There is no ENTER key, so the keypad “listens” for the correct code and disregards a false start. How many key presses would it take to test every possible code?

Linear Keypad

Theoretically, there are 105 possible codes, so entering all of them sequentially would require 5 × 105 key presses. However — because the keypad ignores false starts — some key presses can be saved. For example, typing 123456 will actually test two codes, 12345 and 23456.

Chris continued by asking:

Is it possible to construct an optimal string of key presses of minimal length that tests every possible code?

And with that, my Tuesday was ruined.

I had seen this problem before, or at least a version of it. The top four students at the MathCounts National Competition compete in a special event called the Masters Round, and one year the problem was about something called D Sequences. The author used this nickname because such sequences of minimal length are known as de Bruijn sequences, after the mathematician Nicolas Govert de Bruijn who proved a conjecture about the number of binary sequences in 1946.

Luckily for Chris, he caught a nasty viral infection last week, which gave him plenty of time to lie in bed thinking about the problem. He emailed me on Monday to inform me of his progress:

I did not manage to prove anything, but I did write a computer program that generates sequences using a pretty straightforward algorithm, and I was able to confirm that solutions are possible for 2‑, 3‑, 4‑, and 5‑digit codes.

That note reminded me that the best way to ensure a happy life is to surround yourself with intelligent people who share similar interests. Chris concluded his email to me with this:

I’d say [that my garage] is pretty secure, since it would take me about 14 hours to punch in all the possible numbers, reading from a list.

Feel free to read more about de Bruijn sequences at MathWorld, but you might want to try the following problems first.

  1. Construct a de Bruijn sequence that contains every two-digit permutation of 0’s and 1’s.
  2. Construct a de Bruijn sequence that contains every three-character permutation from an alphabet with three characters.
  3. What is the minimum length of a string of letters that would contain every possible five-letter “word,” that is, every possible permutation of 5 letters, using the Latin alphabet?

Counting things is something that mathematicians, especially those studying combinatorics, do quite often. Yet how they count can be atypical:

When asked how many legs a sheep has, the mathematician replied, “I see two legs in front, two in back, two on the left, and two on the right. That’s eight total, but I counted every leg twice, so the answer is four.”

And there you have it.

March 15, 2017 at 7:29 am 2 comments

Don’t Believe the HIPE

Let’s get this party started with a classic word puzzle.

What English word contains four consecutive letters that appear consecutively in the alphabet?

In Mathematical Mind-Benders (AK Peters, 2007), Peter Winkler describes how the puzzle above served as inspiration for a word game.

I and three other high-school juniors at a 1963 National Science Foundation summer program began to fire letter combinations at one another, asking for a word containing that combination… the most deadly combinations were three or four letters, as in GNT, PTC, THAC and HEMU. We named the game after one of our favorite combinations, HIPE.

This seemed like a good game to play with my sons. I explained the game, and then I gave them a simple example to be sure they understood.


They quickly generated a long list of solutions, including:

  • tERm
  • obsERver
  • fishERman
  • buckminstERfullerene

Since that introduction a few weeks ago, the boys and I have played quite a few games. It’s a good activity to pass the time on a long car ride. The following are some of my favorites:


(these two are fun in tandem)

(the game’s namesake is a worthy adversary)


The practice with my sons has made me a better-than-average HIPE player, so when I recently found myself needing to keep my sons busy while I prepared dinner, I offered the following challenge:

Create a HIPE for me that you think is difficult, and I’ll give you a nickel for every second it takes me to solve it.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Eli attacked the problem with gusto. Fifteen minutes later, he announced, “Daddy, I have a HIPE for you,” and presented me with this:


That was three days ago. Sure, I could use More Words or some other website to find the answer, but that’s cheating. Winkler wrote, “Of course, you can find solutions for any of them easily on your computer… But I suggest trying out your brain first.”

The downside to relying on my brain? This is gonna cost me a fortune.

For your reading enjoyment, I’ve created the following HIPEs. They are roughly in order from easy to hard, and as a hint, I’ll tell you that there is a common theme among the words that I used to create them.

  1. MPL
  2. XPR
  3. YMM
  4. MSCR
  5. MPT
  6. ITESI
  7. NSV
  8. RIGON
  9. OEFF
  10. CTAH
  11. THME
  12. SJU
  13. TRAH (bonus points for finding more than one)

Winkler tells the story of how HIPE got him into Harvard. He wrote “The HIPE Story” as the essay on his admissions application, and four years later, he overheard a tutor who served on the admissions committee torturing a colleague with HIPEs and calling them HIPEs.

I can’t promise that HIPEs will get you into college, but hopefully you’ll have a little fun.

April 9, 2015 at 10:17 pm 2 comments

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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