There is a small, rarefied segment of humor of which I am a connoisseur: math nerd humor. As with any brand of humor, there is good math humor and bad math humor. But the great thing about math nerd humor is that you have to be a math nerd to tell the difference, nay, to even *get* much of it, because a lot of the good math humor relies on at least an acquaintance with arcane mathematical concepts. For example:

**Q:** What's yellow and equivalent to the Axiom of Choice?**A:** Zorn's Lemon.

Yes, it's as dumb as it sounds, though one of the reasons I think it's funny is because I have a weakness for dumb puns. (Ask my daughter.) But if you don't get it, don't make me explain it to you.

I thought I'd heard most of the good obscure math jokes, but my office mate surprised me today, made me laugh out loud, actually, when he told me one I hadn't heard. Another pun, with a bit of misdirection humor:

**Q:** Why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip?

The reason there's misdirection is because in the usual chicken-crossing-the-road joke, the answer is "To get to the other side." But a Möbius strip only has one side, and only one boundary. So when I was trying to think of the answer, I was trying to figure out how the one-sidedness would enter into the humor. And in fact many of the bad versions of this riddle take this angle. The version my co-worker told me, which is a little harder to find on the internet, doesn't take this tack:

**A:** There were manifold reasons.

It's a lot funnier if you know that a Möbius strip is the standard example of a non-orientable compact two-dimensional manifold with boundary. So laugh it up!

Math nerd humor also increases when two or more math nerds are present. Just today, I was walking across the street with a fellow math nerd, discussing parking options, as it recently became possible for me to apply for a parking permit in the lot actually attached to the building where I work, owing to a recent promotion. I mentioned to him that it did, of course, cost more. He feigned shock that price would be inversely proportional to distance-parked from the office, to which I retorted "Well, it's a good thing you can't actually park

inyour own office". He, being a fellow math nerd, knew exactly where I was going with that and instantly responded "Yeah, then it would cost infinity dollars".We both had a good laugh.

Posted by: Ben | December 05, 2008 at 04:27 PM

You guys are sad.

Posted by: Chris | December 05, 2008 at 04:56 PM

The funniest thing I can think of regarding math was when my Geometry class bought Mr Cuddihy a pottie seat for his newborn son, with the kids name on the pee deflector.

All he could say was "Gentlemen, I'm impressed"--In his total Bob Newhart-ish deadpan delivery.

He was pretty funny. Discussing homework problems he'd say

"I gave you some things to think about last night...what do you think about them---yes, no, and (putting his hand on my shoulder), perhaps?

Or, when Brother Chris Ford said the best thing about Calculus was you could walk down the street, and people could look at you, and not know that you know Calculus.

That's about all it ever did for me---I didn't take Calculus in HS, but Bro Chris told me that when I was making up Detention hours washing dishes at the Brother's Residence.

Posted by: hank | December 05, 2008 at 05:09 PM

More math lecture humor:

At UCLA, we had a very dynamic, fast-talking, and funny guy teach our graduate numerical analysis class named Stan Osher. He is really prominent in his field. He would always write wildly on the board, talking a mile a minute, and would mumble quick humorous asides that would have cracked people up if they weren't writing so damn fast. I would write some of these in the margins of my notebook and by the end of the year I had a good collection of "Osherisms". I'll have to go crack them out one day, but they probably have a "had to have been there (and known advanced numerical analysis)" feel to them.

Mathematicians often start proofs with "Suppose (something or other) is true...", then they continue. One thing Osher frequently did was when he was starting to tell you how

notto attack a proof or problem, he would start the development with "Suppose you're an idiot..."Another guy, a geometer named Bob Greene, had a disarming, genteel Southern sense of humor. In way of preface, it turns out that in mathematics, a proof by contradiction, if one can be done, is often much shorter and simpler than other types of proof. Greene liked to tell the story about a grad student who was presented what he was told was a

verydifficult problem to solve. The next day he came into his advisor and said he had a really good start. In fact, he thought he might be halfway there. Surprised, the advisor asked to see the start of his proof. On a sheet of paper was written, at the top "Suppose not..." The rest of the page was blank. Mathematical drollery at it's best.Hank: I think Br. Chris told that story a lot. I heard it, too. And I remember it because it is hysterical.

Posted by: Marty | December 05, 2008 at 05:58 PM

PS: Bob Greene is also a very accomplished violinist, and an expert on audio acoustics. He was Russell Crowe's violin instructor for the movie "Master and Commander", and taught Crowe the subtleties of an Appalachian accent for "Beautiful Mind". I thought he did a good job in both cases of teaching Crowe to fake it.

Posted by: Marty | December 05, 2008 at 06:03 PM