Comic Sections

Sunday 13 February 2005 at 2:53 pm | In Articles | 9 Comments

Comic Sections is the funniest mathematics book I have read and I (and others) giggled all the way through it – how many maths books can you say that about? It is a collection of mathematical jokes, poems, reviews, howlers, riddles, wit etc etc which vary from the low-level

    90° is the boiling-point of a right-angled triangle

via calculus

    \displaystyle \int \frac{d(\text{cabin})}{\text{cabin}}=\log(\text{cabin})+\text{sea}

to the more advanced

    Q. What is a kittegory? A. A small category

via a journal review

    This book creates a much-needed gap in mathematics

and on to a final exam question

    Discuss the advances made in algebra since the invention of the phrase “char F \neq 2”

I have already quoted from the book a couple of times here

There’s no way I can do justice to the book so you have no choice but to buy a copy 🙂 Yes, it’s out of print but the author Desmond MacHale, will sell you one. This is what he told me:

    I have about 100 softback copies remaining which sell at a trickle because I don’t promote it and they retail at $15 US including postage if you want to spread the word about. Yes I really should rewrite it but I am busy working on Beauty in Mathematics which I hope will be influential;there are of course many new mathematical jokes since I wrote CS.One of my favourites is What is the difference between an introvert mathematician an an extrovert mathematician? Well,when an IM is talking to you he looks at his shoes;when an EM is talking to you he looks at your shoes!
    My postal address is Dept of Mathematics, University College, CORK,Ireland.
    Best regards, Des MacHale
    PS Key in my name on or to find my other stuff on jokes,WIT,movies and lateral thinking puzzles, if you want to punish yourself further for Lent.

Mathematics Comedy Videos

Sunday 3 June 2007 at 11:21 am | In Articles | 9 Comments

Mathematical humour is quite difficult to do. I have previously blogged about the book Comic Sections and there are other books like Carl Linderholm’s Mathematics made difficult and Ian Stewart‘s books which contain much humour; a cartoon series Ian drew is the inspiration for this


Mathematical humorous videos are even rarer. Here are a couple. The first is very well-known and has been written about all over the net for a long time. It is  Finite Simple Group of Order Two by the Klein Four Group and involves very clever use of mathematical terms. The other is G103 which is described as a (surreal) day in the life of an undergraduate on the 4-year MMath degree at the University of Warwick. Anyone who has experience of a pure mathematics degree will recognise the accuracy of the amusing observations it makes. There’s more about the film at the G103 site.

There was also a previous humorous video made at Warwick University called Maths Club. Unfortunately, it’s not available on that page or anywhere else as far as I can see. Does anyone know if it’s still available?

Links to other amusing mathematics videos are very welcome.

PS The Unapologetic Mathematician links to a spoof basic mathematics tutorial produced by the BBC called Look Around You – 1 – Maths.

Laugh or cry?

Monday 11 December 2006 at 2:35 pm | In Articles | 1 Comment

I feel bound to add to the viral blogging* publicising a highly amusing phone call made by a chap querying the bill from an internet provider. The company insists that it charges 0.002 cents per KB and that using 35 893 KB costs $71.79. The phone call is an attempt to persuade the company that they are out by a factor of 100. It is a conversation with employees, who are remarkably patient, but think 0.002 cents = 0.002 dollars.

I have to say I laughed a lot but maybe I should cry at the lack of mathematical ability.

You can find the recording at Tragicomic Mathematics and click on recording. It lasts just under half-an-hour. The comments on that page are also amusing particularly the one where the manager asks for “Not a percent of anything, just a plain percent“.

* says:

    On Thursday, someone named “georgevaccaro” create a blog called VerizonMath. In it, he details a bizarre serious of conversations he has had with Verizon revolving around the per KB charges he incurred while accessing data on his phone during a trip to Canada. He was quoted a rate of “.002 cents per KB”, when in fact the customer service representatives had actually meant “.002 dollars per KB.” On his blog, he documents his interactions with the company, posts up a (very funny) audio file of his phone conversation, and he also uploaded a copy of the same phone call to Youtube.

    This has spread with the typical speed of a hot blogstorm. His blog has pulled in more than 20K hits, the Youtube video has upwards of 45K views, and the blog has been linked to by more than 300 other blogs. This is going to get much worse before it gets better, and the image it has created of Verizon customer service couldn’t be much more negative.

There’s a very funny Wikipedia entry on this topic here.

Thanks to Mathematics Under the Microsocope

Student Howlers

Saturday 18 December 2004 at 8:06 pm | In Articles | 4 Comments

A couple of howlers seen in sci.math newsgroup some years ago

1. I do like the lateral (?) thinking behind this one 😀

    \displaystyle \lim_{x \to 0}\frac{\sin 7x}{5x}=\frac{\sin 70}{50}

2. Problem

    Find \displaystyle \lim_{x \to 0}\left(\frac{1}{x}-\frac{1}{\sin x}\right)


    Proof: \displaystyle \frac{1}{x}-\frac{1}{\sin x}=\frac{\sin x - x}{x\sin x}=\frac{\sin - 1}{x \sin} \text{ or } \frac{\sin - 1}{\sin x}
    Therefore, since there are two possible answers with x in the denominator and you can’t get rid of it and since x \to 0, the answer is undefined

Cancelling gives an example taken from Comic Sections by Desmond MacHale. Another one from the same book is:

3. Solve \displaystyle \frac{dy}{dx}=\frac{y}{\sin x}


    \displaystyle \frac{dy}{dx}.\frac{\sin x}{y}=1 so \displaystyle \frac{d\cancel{y}}{dx}.\frac{\sin x}{\cancel{y}}=1 hence \displaystyle \frac{d}{dx}(\sin x)=1 thus \cos x=1 and x = 0

Do you have any favourite howlers?


Tuesday 20 April 2004 at 4:27 pm | In Articles | 1 Comment

Students love to cancel wherever they can, so much so that the book Comic Sections (now out of print) had the following joke:

    The student law of universal cancellation: If the same symbol x occurs in any two different places on the one page it may be cancelled

So you get horrors like \dfrac{\sin x}{n}=\dfrac{\text{si}\hspace{-1mm}\not{n}\hspace{1mm} x}{\not n}=$ six$ 😮

And yet strange things can happen. It is true that \frac{2666}{6665}=\frac{266}{665}=\frac{2}{5}.
What is remarkable is that you can have as many sixes as you like and cancel them as many times as you like so, for example, \frac{26666666}{66666665}=\frac{266}{665}. Can you prove this is true? Can you find 3 other similar fractions?

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