Math Mayhem

Mathematical Limericks

Who says there's no poetry in mathematics? Consider this equation:

    This equation translates to:

    Integral z-squared dz
    From 1 to the cube root of 3
    Times the cosine
    Of three pi over 9
    Equals log of the cube root of e.
    Before you send me critical emails, I already know that the "log" is "natural log" or "log to the base e". This limerick apparently dates from that period in history when physicists understood the convention that "log" without qualification meant "natural log" and that if any other kind of log was meant, you had to specify its base explicitly in the notation.

    The next equation limerick is easier. It was devised by Leigh Mercer (1893-1977), and appeared in Word Ways, 13, 1, (Feb, 1980), p. 36. Mercer also devised one of the most famous palindromes: "A man, a plan, a canal—Panama." Mercer's biography can be found in Word Ways, 24, 3. (August 1991), p. 131-138. He was a London panhandler who drew caricatures on sidewalks for donations.

      12 + 144 + 20 + 3√4 ——————————————————— + (5 × 11) = 92 + 0 7


    A dozen a gross and a score,
    Plus three times the square root of four,
    Divided by seven
    Plus five times eleven
    Is nine squared and not a bit more.

    I suppose we should include here Mercer's example of how to make a limerick from a number, 1,264,853,971.2758463, or vice versa.

    One thousand two hundred and sixty
    four million eight hundred and fifty
    three thousand nine hun-
    dred and seventy one
    point two seven five eight four six three.

    A Möbius stripper.
    Cover of Science Askew
    by Donald Simanek
    and John Holden.
    Replição, 2004.
    Here's some classic math limericks.

    A mathematician confided
    That a Möbius strip is one-sided.
    You'll get quite a laugh
    If you cut it in half.
    For it stays in one piece when divided.

    A burlycue dancer, a pip
    Named Virginia could peel in a zip;
    But she read science fiction
    And died of constriction
    Attempting a Möbius strip.

    —Cyril Kornbluth (1923-1958)
    U.S. Writer

    Here's two original mathematical limericks by Donald E. Simanek.

    Null vectors have zero projection.
    So you ask, "What can be their direction?"
    They point any which way.
    "That's magic!" you say?
    Not really; it's just misdirection.

    The Professor said, "Now I'll tell you
    A fact known to only a few
    Men and women alive.
    Two plus two equals five!
    For large enough values of two."

    Finally, Martin Gardner contributes this one to our collection.

    The Unending Mystery of π

    π goes on and on and on,
    And e is just as cursed.
    I wonder, "How does π begin
    When its digits are reversed?"

      —Martin Gardner

    Pondering the infiniteness of π, Patrick Killen of Australia dashed off this limerick.

    An adventurer once tried to fly
    All the way to the far end of π.
    A true mathematician
    Won't attempt such a mission,
    For such wishin' is just pie in the sky.

      —Patrick Killen

    Martin Gardner revealed to me this curiosity of numerology:

    Write out the alphabet starting with J:


    Erase all letters that have left-right symmetry (such as A) and count the letters in each of the five groups that remain.

    Who would have thought that π was hidden in the English alphabet? Folks addicted to mystical interpretations of mathematics get all excited about such things.

    Math Proofreading.

    Write out 5 + 5 + 5 = 550 with pencil on paper, an "equation" which is obviously incorrect. But you can correct it by adding just one straight line with the pencil. Better yet, there are at least two different ways you can do this.

    y ≠ f(x)

    This x is a very independent variable.

    Fuzzy Logic

    Any variable x which refuses to be dependent on any y is is about as "independent" as it can be.

    Base deception

    A problem in number base conversions: Prove that Christmas = Halloween = Thanksgiving.


      Christmas = DEC 25
      Halloween = OCT 31
      Thanksgiving = NOV 27

      DEC 25 is 25 base 10 or (2 x 10) + (5 x 1) = 25
      OCT 31 is 31 base 8 or (3 x 8) + (1 x 1) = 25
      NOV 27 is 27 base 9 or (2 x 9) + (7 x 1) = 25

    Certain impressionable minds might assume from this remarkable exercise in number-base conversions that there is some mystical significance relating the dates of these holidays.


    Amoebas make poor mathematicians; they divide to multiply.

    Q. What do you get when you cross an anopheles mosquito with a mountain climber?
    A: Nothing: you can't cross a vector with a scalar.

    Since a homonym (scalar & scaler) is involved, this works only as a spoken joke.

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