Posts tagged ‘mathematician’

What Do You Call…

A question from Brain Quest Grade 4:

Parallel Question
Alex responded correctly.


Eli responded belligerently.

It’s not just mathematicians. Everyone who knows that would call them “parallel.”

How do you like that? Not only is my son mathematically literate, but he’s a sarcastic smart-ass, too. I couldn’t be more proud.

In honor of Eli…

What do you call a two-headed canary?
A binary.

What do you call a geometer who spent all summer at the beach?
Tan gent.

What do you call the circuit board on your spouse’s mother’s computer?
The motherboard-in-law.

What do you call two fishermen who fish standing up?
Vertical anglers.

What do you call a number that can’t keep still?
A roamin’ numeral.

What do you call a math teacher who loses control of his pupils?

December 16, 2014 at 1:39 am 1 comment

2 Truths and a Lie (Mathematician Version)

Here’s the question that started all of the nonsense that follows:

You come to a fork in the road. One fork leads to the village, the other leads to almost certain death. There are three guards stationed at the fork: two always tell the truth, and one always lies. What one question can you ask to one of the guards to find out which fork leads to the village?

There is a truly logical answer to this question, but my favorite answer is:

Did you know they’re giving away free beer in the village?

and then follow all three of them as they sprint toward the village.

Labyrinth Puzzle - xkcd

A similar question that got me thinking:

A kind but eccentric king has three beautiful daughters. The eldest daughter always tells the truth, the middle daughter always lies, and the youngest daughter will answer any question randomly, either yes or no. To be sure, you would like to marry the one who always tells the truth; but, you are willing to settle for the one who always lies, because at least you’ll always know where you stand. Under no circumstances would you like to marry the crazy one.

The king offers you the hand of one of his daughters in marriage. He allows you to ask one yes/no question of one of the daughters. What question should you ask to ensure that you don’t marry the crazy one?

Variations of this question have been discussed on Straight Dope and xkcd.

And those two questions got me thinking about the icebreaker game Two Truths and a Lie, wherein each person at a social gathering tells two truths and one lie about themselves, and the others have to discern fact from fiction.

So I imagined…

What would happen if the most famous mathematicians in history played Two Truths and A Lie with one another?

The following is what I suspect some of them might say. (The answers follow below.)

Isaac Newton

  1. Newton’s Cannonball is named after one of my thought experiments.
  2. The city of Newton, MA, is not named after me, but Newton Township, OH, is.
  3. The Fig Newton, manufactured by Nabisco, is named after me.

Rene DesCartes

  1. I did not get out of bed most days until 11 o’clock in the morning.
  2. I posited that boiled water freezes more quickly than other water.
  3. I started college at the age of 10.

Abraham de Moivre

  1. I noted that I was sleeping 15 minutes longer each day, and using that arithmetic progression, I predicted that the day I would sleep for 24 hours would be the exact day of my death — and I was correct.
  2. I was unable to garner a university post in England, but I was appointed to a Commission of the Royal Society to determine if Newton or Leibniz was the first to discover the calculus.
  3. I gained great and immediate notoriety for discovering the normal (bell) curve.


  1. My name is a Greek word that means “good glory.”
  2. Abraham Lincoln would often quote me in his speeches.
  3. I proved the infinitude of primes using a proof by contradiction.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

  1. I discovered the calculus.
  2. I invented the first four-function calculator.
  3. My vast estate was left to my son after my death.

Leonardo Pisano (Fibonacci)

  1. I love rabbits!
  2. I sometimes used the name Bigollo to refer to myself, which means “good-for-nothing traveler.”
  3. The 20th century pianist Liberace created his stage name from a contraction of my book title, Liber Abaci.

Grace Murray Hopper

  1. In 1973, I was the first American and the first woman to be elected a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society.
  2. I invented the computer language COBOL.
  3. I received 36 honorary degrees.

Leonhard Euler

  1. All of my work, now collected in Opera Omnia, contains over 70 volumes.
  2. In 1735, Guillaume De L’Isle and I prepared a map of the Russian Empire.
  3. I was the first to use the notation f(x) for a function, e for the base of natural logs, i for the square root of –1, and π for the ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle.

Diophantus of Alexandria

  1. It is believed that I lived to 84 years of age, based entirely on a problem that appeared in a Greek anthology compiled by Metrodorus.
  2. I was a potato farmer.
  3. I proved that 24n + 7 cannot be expressed as the sum of three squares, for integer values of n.

Evariste Galois

  1. I was home-schooled until age 12.
  2. I was killed in a duel, but history is unsure of the other duelist or the reason for the duel.
  3. I transcribed most of my ideas for what is now called Galois theory the night before the duel.

The third statement from each mathematician was their lie. Below is explication.

Isaac Newton: The Fig Newton is named after the town of Newton, MA, where it was first manufactured.

Rene DesCartes: Actually, he started college at the age of 8.

Abraham de Moivre: In fact, de Moivre’s discovery of the normal curve went almost unnoticed.

Euclid: While many claim that Euclid’s proof of the infinitude of primes uses a proof by contradiction, Michael Hardy and Catherine Woodgold debunk this belief in Mathematical Intelligencer, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 44–52. Hardy claims that the proof written by Euclid is simpler and more elegant than the proof often attributed to him.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: He had neither a vast estate nor a son. He was never married, and he died nearly destitute.

Leonardo Pisano (Fibonacci): Though it would be a great piece of trivia, Liberace’s name had nothing to do with Fibonacci. Liberace was a family name; he was born Władziu Valentino Liberace, but he used only his last name on stage.

Grace Murray Hopper: She received at least 37 honorary degrees, perhaps more.

Leonhard Euler: Euler deserves credit for a lot of things, but he does not deserve credit as the first to use π. That distinction belongs to William Jones who used the symbol in 1706.

Diophantus of Alexandria: Though he claimed that 24n + 7 cannot be expressed as the sum of three squares, he had no proof of it.

Evariste Galois: The myth that he basically transcribed Galois theory the night before his death is greatly exaggerated. He wrote a lot that evening, but he published three papers in the year before his death, which collectively contained most of his work.

May 28, 2014 at 9:02 am Leave a comment

So Teach Your Children Math…

According to CareerCast, three of the four best jobs in 2014 are in STEM fields: mathematician, statistician, and actuary. And the other — tenured university professor — might very well be a STEM career, too.

The worst job? Lumberjack, with a median annual salary of $24,000, a bad work environment, high stress, and a dismal hiring outlook.

Even though they’re on opposite ends of the best job spectrum, math folks and loggers have a lot in common. Both appreciate natural logs.

I learned this at, which has a few interesting tidbits. But not enough to keep me interested, so I logged out.

And we all know that the grass is always greener, which is why some mathematicians opt for a life in the forest…

A math professor had enough of academic life, so he decided to become a lumberjack. He was hired by a logging firm, and he was told that he’d need to cut down 50 trees a day. On his first day, he was handed a chainsaw, and he went into the forest. When he returned to the office at the end of the first day, the foreman asked him, “So, how many trees did you cut down today?”

“Six,” replied the mathematician.

“That’s not enough,” said the foreman. “You’ll have to do better. Get up earlier tomorrow.” So he did, and again he went into the forest with a chainsaw. He returned at the end of the day, sweaty and exhausted. “How many’d you get today?” the foreman asked.

“Twelve,” replied the mathematician.

So the next day, the foreman went out to the forest with the mathematician. He started the chainsaw, started to cut, and explained to the mathematician what he was doing. When he finished, he said, “And that’s how you cut down a tree. Any questions?”

“Yeah,” said the mathematician. “What the hell was all that noise coming from the chainsaw?”

April 26, 2014 at 10:29 am Leave a comment

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

No Respect for Mathy Folks

As we were watching my sons playing in the yard, my wife said to me, “They’re such sensitive children. Let’s wait till they’re older to tell them you’re a math guy.”

I get so little respect, I feel like Rodney Dangerfield. (“During sex, my wife always wants to talk. The other night, she called me from the hotel.”)

I’ve always heard that math folks aren’t boring. We just get excited by boring things.

Here are some one-liners that I hope you won’t find boring.

Have you heard the one about the interesting mathematician?
Nope, me neither.

How do you drive a mathematician insane?
Tie him to a chair, and force him to watch you fold a roadmap the wrong way.

What is the Golden Rule for passing actuarial exams?
Always leave yourself enough time to

How does a mathematician liven up a party?

How can you tell that a mathematician is having a mid-life crisis?
He gets a faster calculator.

What are the two rules for making sure that you know more than your students?
(1) Don’t tell them everything you know.

Where are geometers buried?
The Symmetry.

Which state has the largest population of mathy folks?

Did you hear that a new largest prime number was found?
It’s three times as big as the previous one.

June 20, 2012 at 3:35 pm Leave a comment

Name Dropping

Name dropping is the practice of mentioning the name of illustrious or famous people in casual conversation. By implying a connection to that person, the dropper hopes to raise his social status to the level of the droppee.

Wikipedia says that name dropping is “usually regarded negatively.” I say that it’s downright obnoxious… unless, of course, you’re dropping the name of a long-deceased mathematician into conversation for your own amusement. In that case, it is not only acceptable but strongly encouraged.

For instance, imagine that your friend suddenly shows up at your house and announces, “I just proved the parallel postulate!” It would be perfectly appropriate to respond as follows:

Are Eucliding me?

The following is a list of other ways that you might consider working mathematicians’ names into daily conversation. Good luck! And when you use one of these at a cocktail party and you’re the only one who laughs, just remember — it’s not because it isn’t hysterical; it’s just that none of the other attendees are as sophisticated as you.

  • I’m ready, willing, and Abel, but I still can’t solve a quintic equation with radicals.
  • What’s the sum of the first 100 positive integers? Your Gauss is as good as mine.
  • What’s good for pa is good Fermat!
  • I just proved the minimax theorem, and I feel like a Neumann.
  • Either he Cantor he won’t!
  • Did you thay thomething? Noether!
  • Banach, Banach. Ba-who’s ba-there?
  • Math jokes make me say Hardy har har.
  • I’ll figure out the strategy to this game, Conway or another!
  • Why, you dirty little Pascal!
  • Math is good Fourier soul!
  • He wouldn’t see her until his book was published… but he Kepler in his thoughts.


  • Neils Henrik Abel proved that quintic equations couldn’t be solved with radicals.
  • It is claimed that Carl Friedrich Gauss found the sum of the integers 1 + 2 + 3 + … + 100 at an early age by recognizing that there were 50 pairs, each pair adding to 101.
  • John von Neumann proved the minimax theorem.
  • John Horton Conway did a lot of work in combinatorial game theory.
  • Johannes Kepler’s engagement to Barbara Müller almost fell apart while he was finalizing Mysterium.

And, of course, there is this old gem:

A mathematical horse was able to learn arithmetic, algebra, and even Euclidean geometry. But no matter what the trainer tried, the horse just couldn’t master analytic geometry. Moral: You can’t put Descartes before the horse.

May 22, 2012 at 4:51 am 2 comments

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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.

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