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A Random Walk in Science - R.L. Weber and E. Mendoza

More Random Walks In Science - R.L. Weber and E. Mendoza

In Mathematical Circles (2 volumes) - Howard Eves

Mathematical Circles Revisited - Howard Eves

Mathematical Circles Squared - Howard Eves

Fantasia Mathematica - Clifton Fadiman

The Mathematical Magpi - Clifton Fadiman

Seven Years of Manifold - Jaworski

The Best of the Journal of Irreproducible Results - George H. Scheer

Mathematics Made Difficult - Linderholm

A Stress-Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown - Robert Baker

The Worm-Runners Digest

Knuth's April 1984 CACM article on The Space Complexity of Songs

Stolfi and ?? Sigact article on Pessimal Algorithms and Simplexity Analysis

Here are the responses (edited):

[Rob Day, rpjday@watrose]

Ya know, if you really want, you can borrow my copy of "A Random Walk

in Science", which contains the article on lion hunting. Most of the humor in

this book is from the physics view, not the mathematical, but there is

the occasional gem.

[Bob Atkinson, rgatkinson@watmum]

There is always Knuth's recent CACM article on the analysis of recursive

christmas songs, or something like that. It was in the last 2 years or

so, anyway, and should be obvious if you go looking.

[Paul Fronberg, paf@unixprt]

One source of mathematical humor are the three books by Eves (Prindle, Weber &

Schmidt, inc.):

In mathamatical circles (2 volumes) SBN 87150-056-8

Mathematical circles revisited SBN 87150-121-X

Mathematical circles squared SBN 87150-154-6

[Mirthematic Frank, frank@zen]

I saw the same article, but in a collection of more and less serious

essays in science and mathemathics generally. It is:

A Random Walk In Science

compiled by R.L. Weber and edited by E. Mendoza

published by The Institute of Physics,

47, Belgrave Square, London, England, SW1X 8QX.

ISBN 0 85498 027 X [or 0 85498 029 6, if you believe the dustcover]

I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone with a general interest in science

and mathematics who also likes "fun" reading. Some of the essay names, just

as an example:

"When does jam become marmalade?"

"The theory of practical joking -- its relevance to physics"

"The uses of fallacy"

"On the nature of mathematical proofs"

"Arrogance on physics"

"Physics terms made easy"

"Standards for inconsequential trivia"

"Inertia of a broomstick"

"Theoretical zipperdynamics"

"The art of finding the right graph paper"

"On the imperturbability of elevator operators"

"Turboencabulator"

"A theory of ghosts"

"A stress analysis of a strapless evening gown"

"Do-it-yourself CERN Courier writing kit"

"Slidesmanship"

and many, many others besides. Although with a distinct physical bent,

there is more than enough maths stuff there to keep you laughing for

days.

It also has a companion volume, "More Random Walks In Science", same people,

same source, but I think it's a few hundred miles from my desk right now,

so can't tell you more than that it exists, and is good (but not, I feel, to

the standard of the first volume).

[Roy St. Laurent, roy@umnstat]

With regard to your request for humourous mathematics:

You might try the book _Fantasia mathematica_ edited by Clifton Fadiman

and published (my copy anyway: Coincedentally I just happened to find it

in a used bookstore this weekend) in 1958 by Simon and Schuster. It is

subtitled, "Being a set of stories, together with a group of oddments

and diversions, all drawn from the universe of mathematics." Not all of it

is humourous but entertaining nonetheless.

Here is a short example of one of the oddments:

_There Once Was a Breathy Baboon_ by Sir Arthur Eddington

There once was a breathy baboon

Who always breathed down a bassoon,

For he said, "It appears

That in billions of years

I shall certainly hit on a tune."

While this is not as thought provoking mathematically as the several

examples you gave, several others might be.

[Grace Tsang, gracet@vice.tek.com]

The defunct math mag, MANIFOLD, has a collection of funny things - all

published in a book called, Seven Years from Manifold, ed. by Jaworski.

It includes your big-game hunting example.

[Beth Kevles, beth@adelie.harvard.edu]

My best source of humorous math has been the book

A Random Walk Through Science

It is a compilation of very amusing articles pertaining to various

mathematical disciplines. I don't recall the editor or publisher, I'm

afraid. If you find these "trivial" facts necessary to locating the

book, write back and I'll get them from home. I have the book there. (I

stole it from my father a few years back...)

And then, of course, you might try back issues of the Journal of

Irreproducible Results, which occasionally has the mathematical article.

[Steve Koehler, koehler@telesoft]

I seem to recall that Lewis Carroll wrote a humorous essay or two on

mathematics.

[Hal Perkins, hal@cornell]

This isn't exactly math, but ...

The April, 1984 issue of the Communications of the ACM contains several

humourous Computer Science articles, including Don Knuth's "Complexity

of Songs" paper and others. Most of these are reprinted from sometimes

obscure sources.

[John J. Chew, poslfit@utcs.toronto.edu]

Someone in netland will no doubt be more specific, but there was a

followup to that old AMM article you mentioned, in the same journal

but some time in the last five years or so. If you don't get any

replies, let me know - I know a few people who are bound to have

copies.

[Michael Heins, heins@orion]

There is an anthology compiled by R.L. Weber entitled "A random walk

in science", published by Crane, Russak & Co. Inc., 347 Madison Ave.,

New York 10017 which contains a number of delightful humorous selections

in science and math. (133 selections total) Most relate to science, but

several may be of interest to you. I bought mine years ago at Kroch's

& Brentano's bookstore for $12.50. I have listed below a few of the titles:

"A contribution to the mathematical theory of big game hunting", H Petard

"On the nature of mathematical proofs", J E Cohen

"On the imperturbability of elevator operators: LVII", J Sykes

"A theory of ghosts", D A Wright

"A stress analysis of a strapless evening gown"

"The art of finding the right graph paper to get a straight line", S Rudin

"Slidesmanship", D H Wilkinson

Some selections are pure silliness, while others are true accounts of

humorous incidences, quotes, etc. One of my own favorites is

"The Chaostron. An important advance in learning machines",

J B Cadwallader-Cohen, WW Zysiczk, and RR Donelly condensed from

Journal of Irreproducible Results 10,30(1961). I don't know if this

journal is still being published, but it might be a source for more

humorous mathematics.

[Bill Jefferys, bill@astro.utexas.edu]

In article <33@orion.UUCP>, heins@orion.UUCP (Michael Heins) writes:

> []

> There is an anthology compiled by R.L. Weber entitled "A random walk

> in science", published by Crane, Russak & Co. Inc., 347 Madison Ave.,

> New York 10017 which contains a number of delightful humorous selections

> in science and math. (133 selections total) Most relate to science, but

> several may be of interest to you. I bought mine years ago at Kroch's

> & Brentano's bookstore for $12.50. I have listed below a few of the titles:

>

>

> "On the imperturbability of elevator operators: LVII", J Sykes

>

Unfortunately, the "author" listed above for this particular gem

is not the original "author", and therefore much of the joke

is missed. The original version of this paper was attributed to

one "S. Candlestickmaker", which is a thinly disguised corruption

of "S. Chandrasekhar", who won the Nobel Prize in Physics a few

years ago. It was printed in the format of the Astrophysical Journal,

(Chandrasekhar was editor at the time), and bears a strong resemblance

in its use of mathematics to Chandrasekhar's own papers. All of the

references in the paper give the same volume and page number; I

am told that if you find the right journal and look there, you will

find one of Chandrasekhar's few published errors (probably a typo).

I believe that the journal is Proc. Roy. Soc., but I am not sure.

[Terry L Anderson, tla@kaiser]

An older book of this nature is one entitled "Fantasia Mathematica"

by Clifton Fadiman" and published by Simon & Schuster in 1958. I

have no idea if it is still in print but you should find it in

a library. Many of the stories are written by non-mathematicians

but are about mathematics with some humorous twist. In fact many

of those authored by non-mathematicians I like better than those

by mathematicians. These are mostly short stories on a humorous

mathematical theme rather than the kind of humor in "A Random

Walk.."

[Bill Hery, wjh@bonnie]

In article <427@kaiser.UUCP>, tla@kaiser.UUCP (T Anderson) writes:

> An older book of this nature is one entitled "Fantasia Mathematica"

> by Clifton Fadiman" and published by Simon & Schuster in 1958. I

> have no idea if it is still in print but you should find it in

> a library.

A second book along the same lines by Fadiman is "The Mathematical Magpi;"

also probably out of print. I believe "Fantasia..." was released in a trade

paperback (possibly by Vintage) a few years ago. Check "Books in Print."

Another set of books of interest is "In Mathematical Circles" (2 volumes)

and "Mathematical Circles Revisited" by Eves, published by Prindle, Weber

and Schmidt. Each book has 360 anecdotes, pieces of humorous mathematical

writing, etc, many less than a page long. The article on lion hunting

mentioned in the original posting is included here. Since Eves is a

mathematician himself (with textbooks in advanced calculus, calculus, and

logic that I am aware of), some of the pieces relate to higher mathematics

than Fadiman's do, although many are accessible to general readers. I find

these books more intelligent and enjoyable than Fadiman's. Unfortunately,

these are probably out of print too.

BTW, Fadiman is best known for his work on the editorial committee

(selection committee) of the Book of the Month Club, and for work with early

radio and/or tv quiz shows.

[Stan Isaacs, isaacs@hpccc]

> There is an anthology compiled by R.L. Weber entitled "A random walk

> in science", published by Crane, Russak & Co. Inc., 347 Madison Ave.,

>

There is also a sequel called, I think, "More Random Walks in Science".

> ...

>

> "A contribution to the mathematical theory of big game hunting", H Petard

>

It is interesting to note that H. Petard was a pseudonym of Burbaki - perhaps

the only example of a double-pseudonym!

There have been several additions to the "contribution...", including fairly

recently in the A.M.M. with some new contributions of logic. (It has

references to 5 previous lists.)

Both the Worm-Runners Digest and the Journal of Irreproducible Results

have collections of articles published, and both contain some

mathimatical humour. So does the collection of essays from "Manifold".

I can get better references if needed, but they are at home.

[ki4pv!macs!mgb]

One of the funniest works of mathematical humor that I can recall

is a book called "Mathematics Made Difficult." It's hard to find,

but definitely worth the effort if you can find it. It was written

by a student of Halmos, Linderholm, I believe, and published by

World Press in the mid-'70's. It's truly hilarious. I can recall

crying, I laughed so much. I just wish *I* could find a copy now...

[David Fry, fry@huma1.harvard.edu]

Here's a fairly popular math story. Also, look at each year's MAA calendar for

some interesting, but often sophmoric humor.

Impure Mathematics

Once upon a time (1/t) pretty little Polly Nomial was strolling across

a field of vectors when she came to the edge of a singularly large matrix.

Now Polly was convergent and her mother had made it an absolute

condition that she must never enter such an array without her brackets on.

Polly, however, who had changed her variables that morning and was feeling

particularly badly behaved, ignored this condition on the grounds that it was

Znsufficient and made her way amongst the complex elements.

Rows and columns enveloped her on all sides. Tangents approached her

surface. She became tensor and tensor. Quite suddenly, three branches of a

hyperbola touched her at a single point. She oscillated violently, lost all

sense of directrix, and went completely divergent. As she reached a turning

point she tripped over a square root which was protruding from the erf and

plunged headlong down a steep gradient. When she was differentiated once more

she found herself, apparently alone, in a noneuclidean space.

She was being watched however. That smooth operator, Curly Pi, was

lurking inner product. As his eyes devoured her curvilinear coordinates a

singular expression crossed his face. Was she still convergent, he wondered.

He decide to integrate improperly at once.

Hearing a vulgar fraction behind her, Polly turned around and saw

Curly Pi approaching with his power series extrapolated. She could see at

once, by his degenerate conic and his disparitive terms that he was bent on

no good.

"Heureka," she gasped.

"Ho, ho," he said. "What a symmetric little polynomial you are. I can

see you're absolutely bubbling over with secs."

"O sir," she protested, "keep away from me. I haven't got my brackets

on."

"Calm yourself, my dear," said our suave operator, "your fears are

purely imaginary."

"I, I," she thought. "Perhaps he's homogeneous then?"

"What order are you?" the brute demanded.

"Seventeen," replied Polly.

Curly leered. "I suppose you've never been operated on yet?" he said.

"Of course not," Polly cried indignantly. "I'm absolutely convergent."

"Come, come," said Curly. "Let's off to a decimal place I know and

I'll take you to the limit."

"Never!" gasped Polly.

"Exchlf!" he swore, using the vilest oath he knew. His patience was

gone. Coshing her over the coefficient with a log until she was powerless,

Curly removed her discontinuities. He stared at her significant places and

began smoothing her points of inflection. Poor Polly. All was up. She felt

his hand tending to her asymptotic limit. Her convergence would soon be gone

for ever.

There was no mercy, for Curly was a heavyside operator. He integrated

by parts. He integrated by partial fractions. The complex beast even went all

the way around and did a contour integration. What an indignity, to be

multiply connected on her first integration. Curly went on operating until he

was absolutely and completely orthogonal.

When Polly got home that evening, her mother noticed that she had been

truncated in several places. But it was too late to differentiate now. As the

months went by, Polly increased monotonically. Finally she generated a small

but pathological function which left surds all over the place until she was

driven to distraction.

The moral of our story is this: If you want to keep your expressions

convergent, never allow them a single degree of freedom!

From: fogel@math.berkeley.edu (Micah Fogel)