## Posts tagged ‘pencil’

### Let Me Pencil You In

Pencils are infintely useful yet ridiculously simple — just a cylindrical piece of graphite surrounded by a hexagonal wooden sheath.

Well, typically.

Pencils come in all shapes and sizes, actually. They often have hexagonal cross sections, though some are octagonal, rectangular, circular, and oval.

Heck, there are even pentagonal pencils…

Which has to make you wonder, do we really need pencils in such a wide variety of shapes?

The answer may be no, but there is a practical reason for the multitude of cross sections. Can you think of any possible benefits that a rectangular pencil would have over a circular one, or vice versa?

The following problem about a pencil comes from Peter Winkler’s *Mathematical Mind-Benders*:

A pencil with pentagonal cross-section has a maker’s logo imprinted on one of its five faces. If the pencil is rolled on the table, what is the probability that it stops with the logo facing up?

And here’s a good Fermi question:

How many pencils are there in the world?

I have no idea what the answer is, but one respondent to this question on www.answers.com said, “42,462,013,000,000,000 pencils about.” The amazing part is that **17 people found this useful**!

Slightly less ambiguous is this question:

How many pencils were used to make this sculpture by George Hart?

Or maybe you prefer selected-response items…

Which of the following is the best estimate for the length of a continuous line that could be drawn using a standard pencil?

- 0.35 mile
- 3.50 miles
- 35.0 miles
- 350 miles

Or maybe you’re tired of all these questions. You didn’t come here for a quiz. You came here for some jokes. Fine.

Did you hear about the constipated mathematician?

He worked it out with a pencil.What kind of pencil?

A #2 pencil, of course!What’s the largest pencil in the world?

Pennsylvania.

If you’d like to learn more about pencils and their history — and, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t — you can **download a free copy** of Every Pencil is a Sandwich. In return, you’ll be asked to sign up for the pencils.com newsletter. If you love pencils and use them as much as I do, receiving the newsletter will be a treat, not a burden!

### The Math Humor of *Archer*

*Archer* is an animated comedy series about a spy agency. I shamelessly admit that I am a devoted fan.

The show’s protagonist, Sterling Archer, is a pompous, egocentric misogynist created in the image of James Bond. But don’t expect high-level humor or martinis that are shaken, not stirred. Instead, Archer offers off-color wit and binge drinking, with Sterling delivering such lines as,

Lying is like 95% of what I do.

and

Wait, does Vermont have liquor stores? It has to. It sucks there.

Who can blame you if you find it surprising that I would appreciate such low-brow humor? Especially given the prurient nature of material that I regularly offer on this blog.

Did you hear about the constipated mathematician?

He worked it out with a pencil.What kind of pencil?

A #2 pencil, of course.

But the show also occasionally includes a math reference, like this one.

Who am I, Alan Turing? He was also in

X-Men, remember?

Don’t blame me. I never said that the math references were used correctly.

In Season 2, Episode 5 (“The Double Deuce”), it appears that Archer has difficulty with measurement conversions…

Sterling Archer: “So, how much are we talking here?”

Woodhouse: “Oh, nearly 1,200 pounds.”

Sterling Archer: “What?! Nobody is getting killed over… however much that is in real money.”

But then in Season 4, Episode 12 (“Sea Tunt, Part 1”), he demonstrates an uncanny ability to convert between measurements…

Malory Archer (pointing to a map): The bomb is on the ocean floor here at a depth of 8,000 feet.

Sterling Archer: Or 1,333 fathoms.

Lana Kane: How do you know that?

Sterling Archer: How do you not?

A little later, Sterling remarks that the distance is 0.43 leagues below the surface.

So the show isn’t completely devoid of intellectual content. Just mostly.

Why did the spy hide inside a math book.

Because it was under cover.

I know. Painful. This one any better?

A young woman was having trouble finding a post-doc after getting her doctorate in math, so she applied for a job as a spy. At the interview, she was given a sealed envelope with confidential information. She was told that she shouldn’t open the envelope under any circumstances, and she should deliver it to the fourth floor immediately. She left the interview room and, unable to control herself, she opened the envelope. Inside, a message read, “Well done! You’re the kind of person we’re looking for. Report to the seventh floor.”

### Best Math Joke Ever?

If you do a search for “best math joke ever,” you’ll see that there is widespread disagreement. The following are some of what you’ll find.

The folks at Physics Forums like this one:

How does a mathematician deal with constipation?

He works it out with a pencil.

Sadly, the site failed to include this follow-up joke.

What kind of pencil?

A #2 pencil, of course.

Some folks at Yahoo Answers like this one:

An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar. The first one orders a drink. The second one orders half a drink. The third orders 1/4 drink. The fourth orders 1/8 drink, and so on. The bartender, a little overwhelmed, asks the mathematicians, “Hey, you guys sure you want to do this? Isn’t that a bit much?” The mathematicians reply, “Oh, don’t worry… we know our limits.”

From Mormon MD:

And the good folks at Blue Donut have taken the list of 100 funniest jokes of all-time — as compiled by *GQ* — and allow visitors to vote on them. Sadly, most of them aren’t mathy, but this one from A. Whitney Brown is.

China has a population of a billion people. One billion! That means even if you’re a one in a million kind of guy, there are still a thousand others exactly like you.

### Math Joke in Popular Press

Gene Weingarten, a columnist for the Washington Post, used a math joke in his column this week.

Refuting disgustologists’ contentions that “much of human behavior can be explained by our instinctive desire to avoid things that disgust us,” he offered the following joke as proof:

Did you hear about the constipated mathematician?

He worked it out with a pencil!

I was ecstatic that a math joke got some love; though I was a little bummed that he didn’t include the follow-up joke:

What kind of pencil did he use?

A No. 2 pencil!

I sent a note to Mr. Weingarten to let him know about this sin of omission. But that wasn’t until I stopped laughing after reading the non-math joke that he included in the column:

Woman walks into a bar, says: “I’ll have an entendre. Make it a double.” So the bartender gives it to her.

I do not expect to get a response to my message. But if I do, you’ll be the first to know!

### Most Underrated Math Joke Ever

I believe the following joke is the most underrated, because I was nearly booed off stage when I told it during a “Math Joke Hour” at the 2009 NCTM Annual Meeting in Washington, DC:

What’s the difference between a math PhD and a large pizza?

The pizza can feed a family of four.

But perhaps the most underappreciated is the following joke pair, which unfortunately can’t be told in many situations:

Did you hear about the constipated mathematician?

He worked it out with a pencil.What kind of pencil?

A #2 pencil, of course.

Got some that you think deserve more credit but get less than either of these? I’d love to hear about them.