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December 31, 2004 10:08 AM

Math Humor

By
John Derbyshire

OK, let’s get ‘em off our chests.

Q: What’s huge, white, swims in the ocean, and has only one side?

A: Moebius Dick.

That was from a reader. However, the current (Jan. ‘05) _Notices of the

American Mathematical Society_ has a round-up of math humor, from which I

have selected the following.

Q: What’s brown, furry, runs to the sea, and is equivalent to the Axiom of

Choice?

A: Zorn’s lemming.

Q: What’s yellow, linear, normed, and complete?

A: A Bananach space.

Q: What does an analytic number theorist say when he’s drowning?

A: Log-log, log-log, log-log,…

Q: How many number theorists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: This is not known, but it is conjectured to be a prime number.

Q: How many light bulbs does it take to change a light bulb?

A: One, if it knows its own Goedel number.

Q: Why did the chicken cross the Moebius strip?

A: To get to the same side.

***Excuses for not doing math homework:

—I accidentally divided by zero and my paper burst into flames.

—I could only get arbitrarily close to my textbook, I couldn’t reach it.

—I have the proof, but there isn’t room to write it in this margin.

***Set-theoretic campfire song:

Aleph-null bottles of beer on the wall

Aleph-null bottles of beer,

You take one down and pass it around,

Aleph-null bottles of beer on the wall…

Not included in the AMS collection is one of the very first math jokes I

ever heard, soon after entering college. It’s not really a math joke, just

an absent-minded professor joke, but I like it.

Joke: Some students came upon their math professor kneeling by his bicycle.

Looking closely, they saw that one of the tires was flat. The math

professor was pumping air into the *other* tire. “Excuse me, Professor,”

said one of the students. “You are pumping air into the wrong tire.” The

professor stopped what he was doing and stood up, looking perplexed.

“But… do they not communicate?”