Let ε < 0.


Trivia Mathematica

Filed under: Academic humor, Puns, Upper-division jokes — Travis @

In 1940 over lunch, Norbert Weiner and Aurel Winter amused themselves by inventing titles for articles in a journal to be called Trivia Mathematica. Wiener was enormously amused by the results, and insisted on showing them to Tibor Rado, who was well known to have no sense of humor, and was not amused. This is that list.

Announcement of the Revival
of a Distinguished Journal
founded by Norbert Wiener and Aurel Winter
in 1939.

“Everything is trivial once you know the proof.” — D. V. Widder

The first issue of Trivia Mathematica (Old Series) was never published. Trivia Mathematica (New Series) will be issed continuously in unbounded parts. Contributions may be written in Basic English, English BASIC, Poldavian, Peanese and/or Ish, and should be directed to the Editors at the Department of Metamathematics, University of the Bad Lands. Contributions will be neither acknowledged, returned, nor published.

The first issue will be dedicated to N. Bourbaki, John Rainwater, Adam Riese, O. P. Lossers, A. C. Zitronenbaum, Anon, and to the memory of T. Rado, who was not amused. It is expected to include the following papers.

  • On the well-ordering of finite sets.
  • A Jordan curve passing through no point on any plane.
  • Fermat’s Last Theorem I: The case of even primes.
  • Fermat’s Last Theorem II: A proof assuming no responsibility.
  • On the topology im Kleinen of the null circle.
  • On prime round numbers.
  • The asymptotic behavior of the coefficients of a polynomial.
  • The product of large consecutive integers is never a prime.
  • Certain invariant characterizations of the empty set.
  • The random walk on one-sided streets.
  • The statistical independence of the zeros of the exponential.
  • Fixed points in theorem space.
  • On the tritangent planes of the ternary antiseptic.
  • On the asymptotic distribution of gaps in the proofs of theorems in harmonic analysis.
  • Proof that every inequation has an unroot.
  • Sur un continu d’hypotheses qui equivalent a l’hypothese du continu.
  • On unprintable propositions.
  • A momentous problem for monotonous functions.
  • On the kernels of mathematical nuts.
  • The impossibility of the proof of the impossibility of a proof.
  • A sweeping-out process for inexhaustible mathematicians.
  • On transformations without sense.
  • The normal distribution of abnormal mathematicians.
  • The method of steepest descents on weakly bounding bicycles.
  • Elephantine analysis and Giraffical representation.
  • The twice-Born approximation.
  • Pseudoproblems for pseudodifferential operations.

The Editors are pleased to announce that because of a timely subvention from the National Silence Foundation, the first issue will not appear.


A traditional-to-contemporary math dictionary

Filed under: Academic humor — Travis @

Today it is considered an egregious faux pas to speak or write in the crude antedated terms of our grandfathers. To assist the isolated student and the less sophisticated teacher, we have prepared the following list of currently fashionable mathematical terms in academia. We pass this list on to the general public as a matter of charity and in the hope that it will lead to more refined elucidation from young scholars.

What’s Out? What’s In?
thinking hypothesizing
proof by contradiction
indirect proof
reductio ad absurdum
mistake non sequitur
starting place handle
with corresponding changes mutatis mutandis
counterexample pathological exception
consequently ipso facto
swallowing results digesting proofs
therefore ergo
has an easy-to-understand but hard-to-find solution obvious
has two easy-to-understand but hard-to-find solutions trivial
truth tautology
empty vacuous
drill problems plug-n-chug work
criteria rubric
example substantive instantiation
similar structure homomorphic
very similar structure isomorphic
same area isometric
arithmetic number theory
count enumerate
one unity
generally globally
specifically locally
constant invariant
bonus result corollary
distance metric measure
several a plurality
function operator
argument operand
fourth power
random stochastic
unique condition singularity
uniqueness unicity
tends to zero vanishes
tip-top point apex
half-closed half-open
concave non-convex
rectangular prism parallelopiped
perpendicular (adj.) orthogonal
perpendicular (n.) normal
Euclid Descartes
Fermat Wiles
path trajectory
shift rectilinear translation
similar homologous
very similar congruent
change direction perturb
join concatenate
approximate to two or more decimal places accurate
high school geometry
plane geometry
geometry of the Euclidean plane under the Pythagorean metric
clever scheme algortihm
brace, { squiggle
decimal denary
alphabetical order lexicographical order

Michael Stueden, November 7, 1994.


Tom Swifties

Filed under: Puns — Travis @

“6 is a special number,” Tom said perfectly.

“Remove the braces,” remarked Tom parenthetically.

“If p, then q,” implied Tom.

“The concavity changes here,” said Tom with inflection.

“It is three meters long,” ruled Tom.

“Square root of 2 is not equal to a fraction!” Tom yelled irrationally.

“They are mirror images,” reflected Tom.

“Repeating decimals do not end,” remarked Tom in his infinite wisdom.

“This is a function,” related Tom.

“1/2 is a fraction,” said Tom properly.

“It is a vector,” directed Tom.

“3 = 11 in mod 2,” noted Tom basely.

“It touches the circle just once,” noted Tom tangentially.

b2 – 4ac = 0,” discriminated Tom.

“I don’t know what (b2 – 4ac) equals and I don’t care!” said Tom indiscriminately.

“Space is an infinite set of points,” Tom said distantly.

“1… 3… 5… 7…” Tom said oddly.

“It must be a convex quadrilateral,” figured Tom.

“1 = 1,” Tom stated absolutely.

“99 is almost 100,” said Tom roughly.

“The function ez is holomorphic,” Tom analyzed.

“It’s a plane figure,” Tom said flatly.

“Proofs are necessary,” reasoned Tom.

“I hate quizzes,” Tom stated testily.

“It’s not the y-axis, it’s not the y-axis, it’s not the y-axis,” Tom said inordinately.

“The decimal expansion of 1/3 is .3333333….,” repeated Tom.

“ex may be written as 1 + x/1! + x2/2! + x3/3! + …,” expanded Tom.

These are all by Arthur Coxley and his students, except the last three, which are mine.


Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device

Filed under: Academic humor, Puns — Travis @

Introducing the new Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device, trade-named BOOK.

BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electric circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It’s so easy to use, even a child can operate it. Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere-even sitting in an armchair by the fire-yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc.

Here’s how it works:

BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable),each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. The pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence. Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheet, doubling the information density and cutting costs. Experts are divided on the prospects for further increases in information density; for now, BOOKS with more information simply use more pages. Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into your brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet.

BOOK may be taken up at any time and used merely by opening it. BOOK never crashes or requires rebooting, though, like other devices, it can become damaged if coffee is spilled on it and it becomes unusable if dropped too many times on a hard surface. The “browse” feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet, and move forward or backward as you wish. Many come with an “index” feature, which pin-points the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval.

An optional “BOOKmark” accessory allows you to open BOOK to the exact place you left it in a previous session-even if the BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus, a single BOOKmark can be used in BOOKs by various manufacturers. Conversely, numerous BOOKmarkers can be used in a single BOOK if the user wants to store numerous views at once. The number is limited only by the number of pages in the BOOK.

You can also make personal notes next to BOOK text entries with optional programming tools, Portable Erasable Nib Cryptic Intercommunication Language Styli (PENCILS).

Portable, durable, and affordable, BOOK is being hailed as a precursor of a new entertainment wave. BOOK’s appeal seems so certain that thousands of content creators have committed to the platform and investors are reportedly flocking to invest. Look for a flood of new titles soon.


Contemporary music and wave functions

Filed under: Academic humor, Diff'rent strokes, Puns — Travis @

The analysis of contemporary music using harmonious oscillator wave functions

H. J. Lipkin
Department of Musical Physics
Weizmann Institute of Science

The importance of Harmonious Oscillation in music was well known [1] even before the discovery of the Harmonious Oscillator by Stalminsky [2]. Evidence for shell structure was first pointed out by Haydn [3], who discovered the magic number four and proved that systems containing four musicleons possessed unsual stability [4]. The concept of the magic number was expressed by Mozart, who introduced the ‘Magic Flute’ [5], and a Magic Mountain was later introduced by Thomas mann [6]. A system of four magic flutes playing upon a magic mountain would be triply magic. Such a system is probably so stable that it does not interact with anything at all, and is therefore unobservable. This explains the fact that doubly and triply magic systems have never been observed.

A fundamental advance in the application of spectroscopic techniques to music is due to Rachmaninoff [7], who showed that all musical works can be expressed in terms of a small number of parameters, A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, along with the introduction of Sharps [8]. Work along lines similar to that of Rachmaninoff has been done by Wigner, Wagner, and Wigner [9] using the Niebelgruppentheorie. Relativistic effects have been calculated by Bach, Feshbach, and Offenbach, using the method of Einstein, Infeld, and Hoffman [10].

There has been no successful attempt thus far to apply the Harmonious Oscillator to modern music. The reason for this failure, namely that most modern music is not harmonious, was noted by Wigner, Wagner, and Wigner [11].

A more unharmonious approach is that of Brueckner [12], who uses plane waves instead of harmonious oscillator functions. Although this method shows great promise, it is applicable strictly speaking only to infinite systems. The works of the Brueckner School are thus suitable only for very large ensembles.

A few very recent works should also be mentioned. There is the Nobel-Prize-winning work of Bloch [13] and Purcell [14] on unclear resonance and conduction. The work of Primakofiev should be noted [15], and of course the very fine waltzes presented by Strauss [16] at the ‘Music for Peace’ Conference in Geneva.


[1] G. F. Handel, The Harmonious Blacksmith (london, 1757)

[2] Igar Stalminsky, Musical Spectroscopy with Harmonious Oscillator Wave Functions, Helv. Mus. Acta. 1 (1801) 1

[3] J. Haydn, The alpha-Particle of Music; the String Quartet Op 20 (1801) No 5

[4] A. B. Budapest, C. D. Paganini, and E. F. Hungarian, Magic Systems in Music

[5] W. A. Mozart, A Musical Joke, K234567767 (1799)

[6] T. Mann, Joseph Haydn and His Brothers (Interscience, 1944)

[7] G. Rachmaninoff, Sonority and Seniority in Music (Invited Lecture, International Congress on Musical Structure, rehovoth, 1957)

[8] W. T. Sharp, Tables of Coefficients (Chalk River, 1955)

[9] E. Wigner, R. Wagner, and E. P. Wigner, Der Ring Die Niebelgruppen. I Siegbahn Idyll (Bayrut, 1900)

[10] J. S. Bach, H. Feshbach, and J. Offenbach, Tales of Einstein, Infeld and Hoffman (Princeton, 1944)

[11] E. P. Wigner, R. Wagner, and E. Wigner, Gotterdammerung!! and other unpublished remarks made after hearing ‘Pierrot Lunaire’

[12] A. Brueckner, W. Walton, and Ludwig von Beethe, Effective Mass in C Major

[13] E. Bloch, Schelomo, an Unclear Rhapsody

[14] H. Purcell, Variations on a Theme of Britten (A Young Person’s Guide to the Nucleus)

[15] S. Primakofiev, Peter and the Wolfram-189

[16] J. Strauss, The Beautiful Blue Cerenkov Radiation; Scient’s Life; Wine, Women and Heavy Water; Tales from the Oak Ridge Woods

From the Proceedings of the Rehovoth Conference on Nuclear Structure, held at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovoth, September 8-14, 1957.


The Ten Commandments of Mathematics

Filed under: Academic humor — Travis @

1. Thou shalt read thy problem.

2. Whatsoever thou doest to one side of ye equation, do thou also to the other.

3. Thou must use thy “Common Sense,” else thou wilt have flagpoles 9,000 feet in height, yea, even fathers younger than their sons.

4. Thou shalt ignore the teachings of false prophets to do work in thy head.

5. When thou knowest not, thou shalt look it up, and if thy search still elude thee, then thou shalt ask the all-knowing professor.

6. Thou shalt master each step before putting thy heavy foot down on the next.

7. Thy correct answer does not prove that thou hast worked thy problem correctly. This argument convincest none, least of all, thy teacher.

8. Thou shalt first see that thou hast copied thy problem correctly before bearing false witness that the answer book lieth.

9. Thou shalt look back even unto thy youth and remember thy arithmetic.

10. Thou shalt learn, speak, write, and listen correctly in the language of mathematics, and verily A’s and B’s shall follow thee even unto graduation.


Teach your dog to eliminate on command!

Filed under: Puns — Travis @

The following is taken directly from You Can Teach Your Dog to Eliminate on Command, by M. L. Smith.

Would you like to train your dog to eliminate on command?

Hundreds of dog owners who have been through our Shepard House obedience classes in the Chicagoland area over the past 13 years have been enjoying this luxury. It is one of the simplest things to teach a dog, it works at ages above six weeks, and creates a wonderful life-long convenience for both the owner and the dog.

This book will tell you how they did it!

You can establish a conditioned reflex in your dog by associating a special sound, say, the phrase “Do it!,” with elimination. Fifty to 75 repetitions are need to get a functional result. When the repetitions have been adequately carried out, the sound itself will cause the dog to “feel an urge” and respond to it by eliminating anything.

From then on, whenever you say the trigger phrase “Do it!,” even at a strange time or place, your dog will do his best to eliminate almost immediately.

This book is extremely successful. Just click to see the results: Do it!

Thanks to Don Teets for providing the picture of the dog.


Remarks you are not likely to find in a journal

Filed under: Academic humor — Travis @

“Throughout this paper, for simplicity, we adopt the convention that all symbols are considered to have the same meaning. The precise nature of that meaning is left as an exercise to the reader.”

“This paper is dedicated to my graduate students, without whom it would have taken much less time to write.”

“If the preceding argument is unclear, simply replace all variables with the Middle High German for flamingo and proceed as in Lemma 6.”

“Before giving the proof of Theorem 4, it is necessary to make a few preliminary remarks. Hi Mom!”

“Let k(T) denote the space of formal linear combinations of Tunisian government officials, with coefficients in an arbitrary field k.”

“Proof: God (personal communication).”

“Proof: Duh.”

“We study herein the irreducible holomorphic representations of a compact connected simply connected reductive classical linear algebraic group over a complete algebraically closed field of prime characteristic, to which we will refer as thingamabobs.”

“Supported in part by Betty Ford Foundation grant no. M165-4807.”

“Thanks are due to the second author’s imaginary friend for helpful conversations.”

“For further discussion see M. Sendak, Where The Wild Things Are, pp. 8-10, illustrations.”

“The following proof is easiest to understand if chanted in Swahili.”

“We adopt the notational convention that all statements in 12-point type are categorically false.”

“If the preceding proof seems unclear, try it your own damn self.”


Category theory

Filed under: Discontinuous humor, Puns — Travis @

There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who can’t.
George Carlin

There are two groups of people in the world: those who believe that the world can be divided into two groups of people, and those who don’t.

There are two groups of people in the world: those who can be categorized into one of two groups of people, and those who can’t.

There are two groups of people in the world: those that don’t do math, and those that take care of them.

There are three kinds of people in the world: them that aren’t good at math and them that aren’t goof at English.

There are 10 groups of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand trinary, those who don’t, and those who mistake it for binary.


Different strokes

Filed under: Diff'rent strokes — Travis @

A mathematician is a person who says that, when 3 people are supposed to be in a room but 5 came out, 2 have to go in so the room gets empty.

A statistician is a person who, if his head was in an oven and his feet were ice, would say that on the average he feels fine.1

An economist is a person who is good with numbers but lacks the personality to be an accountant.

An engineer thinks that his equations are an approximation to reality.
A physicist thinks reality is an approximation to his equations.
A mathematician doesn’t care.

A mathematician belives nothing until it is proven.
A physicist believes everything until it is proven wrong.
A chemist doesn’t care, and a biologist doesn’t understand the question.

Biologists think they are biochemists,
Biochemists think they are Physical Chemists,
Physical Chemists think they are Physicists,
Physicists think they are Gods,
And God thinks he is a Mathematician.2

Chemistry is physics without thought.
Mathematics is physics without purpose.

Philosophy is a game with objectives and no rules.
Mathematics is a game with rules and no objectives.

Physicists defer only to mathematicians, but mathematicians defer only to God.

Relations between pure and applied mathematicians are based on trust and understanding. Namely, pure mathematicians do not trust applied mathematicians, and applied mathematicians do not understand pure mathematicians.

The graduate with a Mathematics degree asks, “Why does it work?”
The graduate with a Science degree asks, “How does it work?”
The graduate with an Engineering degree asks, “How does one build it?”
The graduate with an Accounting degree asks, “How much will it cost?”
The graduate with a Liberal Arts degree asks, “Do you want fries with that?”

To mathematicians, solutions mean finding the answers.
To chemists, solutions are things that are still all mixed up.


1. Anyone who has taken a statistics class has probably heard this gag at least once, but few have ever bothered to look at very unusual physical conditions assumed by the joke. If the said statistician burns only paper in the oven (so the temperature of the oven is 451 degreed F, as a famous science fiction story reminds us), and if he is comfortable at 98 degrees F (the normal body temperature), then calling the ice temperature X and doing the simplest method of averaging, we find:

(451 + X)/2 = 98
451 + X = 196
X = -255

This is some unusually cold ice!

2. The last line is based on Plato, who said “God geometrizes.”

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