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Canonical List of Math Jokes - Part 1 of 10

Here is the "Canonical List of Math Jokes" collection, in 10 parts!

You may also be interested in another collection of science and math
humor from Joachim Verhagen.  There is some math humor here that I
haven't collected yet, as well as humor in various areas of science.

Parts 7 - 10 of this "Canonical List of Math Jokes" contain
material from Joachim's collection, with permission.

Some new humor items are at the beginning of this section.
New ones from Joachim are in part 10.

For some math related comics try "Brandon's Math Comics" at:

For "Images of Mathematicians on Postage Stamps" see:

For "Math on Stamps" see:

Is it possible?  Information on the world's first illegal prime
may be found at:

When I started this collection quite some time ago in an effort to
reduce the traffic and repetition on rec.humor and to gather math
humor in one place, I failed to save humor attributions and thereby
violated netiquette.  Most of the items, I'm sure, were 2nd, 3rd,
etc., -hand anyway, but if you know of an original piece of humor
without attribution, and you can make a good claim, let me know.

Michael Cook


"There are only 10 types of people in this world:
those who understand binary and those who don't."


A while back in my company's technical library, I found proof
that mathematics is dull, at least for engineers.

On the shelf, with Dewey decimal number 510 D,
is the book "Mathematics for Engineers", 2nd. ed.,
McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York and London, 1941.

The author?

Raymond W. Dull

Finally proof for all those who truly thought math *was* Dull!


A serious word problem.  Do you know the solution?

The combined age of a ship and its boiler is 48 years.

The ship is twice as old as
   the boiler was
      when the ship was half as old as
         the boiler will be
            when the boiler is three times as old as
               the ship was
                  when the ship was three times as old as
                     the boiler.

How old is the ship?

What are the mathematical equations that will solve this problem?


"I can't explain this.  I think it's obvious, though."

 - an MIT Algebraic Geometry professor, March 17, 2000

    [From 'Quote of the Day', Submitted by: Rick Sayre, Mar. 20, 2000]


"Obvious" is the most dangerous word in mathematics.

-- Bell, Eric Temple (1883-1960)


Here is a good, animated web site that illustrates the proof of the
Pythagorean Theorem.  It is an interesting proof, using shearing and
translation of triangles.


Just recently, I rediscovered an interesting piece that I had read
years ago.  It it the article on non-standard ways to find the height
of a building given a barometer.  A student gives several non-traditional
ways to do this.  Read the article at:

The article is by Alexander Calandra and appeared first in
"The Saturday Review" (December 21, 1968, p 60).
It is also in the collection "More Random Walks in Science" by
R.L.Weber, The Institute of Physics, 1982.


From: Richard Carr 

Apologies in advance:

A new PhD in algebra gets a temporary position at a university for a
year.  He bumps into one of the faculty and, having the cockiness and
arrogance of youth, says to him, "I have heard it said that all
logicians go insane.  Why then did you decide to study Model Theory?"

"My dear doctor, very few logicians go insane but the entire algebra
faculty is seeing the psychiatrist," replied the logician.

Thusly tempered, the young man replies uncertainly, "The entire faculty?"

"Yes, they're all in group therapy."


What is (15 minus three times five) plus (20 minus four times five) plus
(36 minus nine times four) plus (72 minus nine times eight) plus (98 minus
eight times twelve) plus (56 minus seven times eight)
[... and on and on ...]?

A lot of work for nothing.

-- as told to me by my daughter Amy


From: (jim funk)

A piece of string walked into a small town on a hot, dusty day.
He was thirsty, so he sauntered into the first establishment he
encountered and asked the waiter for a glass of water.

"Sorry", said the waiter, "we don't serve strings here."

Discouraged, the string walked out.  A little further down the
street, he met a stranger.

"You look hot," said the stranger.  "Why don't you go into that
cafe and get a drink of water?"

"I tried that," said the string, "but the waiter wouldn't serve
me anything because I'm just a string."

"No problem" said the stranger.  "I'll fix you up."  He grabbed
the string, tied him in a bowline and frayed his ends.  "Now try it."

The string slipped back into the cafe and asked the waiter for a
glass of water.  "Hey," said the waiter, "aren't you the piece of
string that was just in here?"

"Nope," retorted the string, "I'm a frayed knot."


Yucks Digest  Sun, 9 Nov 97  Volume 7 : Issue  22

From: "Roberts, Robin" 

Engineers and scientists will never make as much money as
business executives.  Now follows a rigorous mathematical Proof
that explains why this is true:
Postulate 1:  Knowledge is Power.
Postulate 2:  Time is Money.

As every engineer knows,

        ---- = Power

Since Knowledge = Power, and Time = Money, we have

        ----- = Knowledge

Solving for Money, we get:

        --------- = Money

Thus, as Knowledge approaches zero, Money approaches infinity
regardless of the Work done.

Conclusion:  The Less you Know, the more you Make.
Note: It has been speculated that the reason why Bill Gates
dropped out of Harvard's math program was because he stumbled
upon this proof as an undergraduate, and dedicated the rest of
his career to the pursuit of ignorance.


Math and Alcohol don't mix, so...


Then there's every parent's scream when their child walks into the
room dazed and staggering:



From: Dave Boll 

I was email-chatting with a friend, and he made a comment on my .sig
that really cracked me up. I included it below so that you can be
cracked up also.

Home page:  Stop by for a visit! Lots of stuff
on Recreational Mathematics, Amateur Astronomy, etc.

> Yeah, I used to think it was just recreational... then I started
> doin' it during the week... you know, simple stuff: differentiation,
> kinematics.  Then I got into integration by parts... I started doin'
> it every night: path integrals, holomorphic functions.  Now I'm
> on diophantine equations and sinking deeper into transfinite
> analysis.  Don't let them tell you it's just recreational.
> Just say {}.

ROTFL!  Fortunately, I can quit any time I want.


The following is from a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon dated 3/6/91.

Calvin: You know, I don't think math is a science, I think it's a religion.

Hobbes: A religion?

Calvin: Yeah.  All these equations are like miracles.  You take two
numbers and when you add them, they magically become one NEW number!
No one can say how it happens.  You either believe it or you don't.
[Pointing at his math book]  This whole book is full of things that
have to be accepted on faith!  It's a religion!

Hobbes: And in the public schools no less.  Call a lawyer.

Calvin: [Looking at his homework]  As a math athiest, I should be
excused from this.


For those few who can't remember the value of PI to the 30th place the
following mnemonic may be of help.  The number of letters in each word
represents the value of the digit:

This appeared in Nature, October 20, 1994 in a letter from W. E. Ormerod
who was quoting from G. F. Hull's "An Elementary Survey of Modern Physics".

       "Qui j'aime a faire apprendre un nombre util aux sages!
        Immortel Archimede, artiste ingenieur
        Qui de ton jugement peut priser la valuer?
        Pour moi, ton probleme eut de parieiles avantages."

 (Notes: You are on your own for the diacritical marks.)

    Submitted by:   harvey@acf2.NYU.EDU (harvey)


                            IN THE
                     HISTORY OF MATHEMATICS

  In the interest of historical accuracy let it be known that ....

  1) Fibonacci's daughter was not named "Bunny".

  2) Michael Rolle was not Danish, and did not call his daughter "Tootsie".

  3) William Horner was not called "Little-Jack" by his friends.

  4) The "G" in G. Peano does not stand for "grand".

  5) Rene Descartes' middle name is not "push".

  6) Isaac Barrow's middle name is not "wheel".

  7) There is no such place as the University of Wis-cosine,
     and if there was, the motto of their mathematics
     department would not be "Secant ye shall find."

  8) Although Euler is pronounced oil-er, it does not follow
     that Euclid is pronounced oi-clid.

  9) Franklin D. Roosevelt never said "The only thing we have
     to sphere is sphere itself."

10) Fibonacci is not a shortened form of the Italian name that
    is actually spelled: F i bb ooo nnnnn aaaaaaaa ccccccccccccc
    ccccccccccccccccccccc iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.

11) It is true that August Mobius was a difficult and opinionated man.
    But he was not so rigid that he could only see one side to every

12) It is true that Johannes Kepler had an uphill struggle in explaining
    his theory of elliptical orbits to the other astronomers of his time.
    And it is also true that his first attempt was a failure.  But it is not
    true that after his lecture the first three questions he was asked were
    "What is elliptical?", "What is an orbit?", and "What is a planet?

13) It is true that primitive societies use only rough approximations
    for the known constants of mathematics. For example, the northern
    tribes of Alaska consider the ratio of the circumference to the
    diameter of a circle to be 3.  But it is not true that the value of 3
    is called Eskimo pi.
    Incidentally, the survival of these tribes is dependent upon government
    assistance, which is not always forthcoming.  For example, the Canadian
    firm of Tait and Sons sold a stock of defective compasses to the
    government at half-price, and the government passed them onto the
    northern natives.
    Hence the saying among these peoples: "He who has a Tait's is lost."

               --From Michael Stueben: high school math/C.S. teacher
                 E-mail address:


Q: What does (x-a)(x-b)(x-c)...(x-z) equal?

A: [Hint: check out the 24th factor].


The three laws of thermodynamics:

1. You can't win the game.
2. You can't break even.
3. You can't even quit.


Here's a limerick I picked up off the net a few years back - looks better
on paper.

       |  2            3 X pi          3_
       | z dz  X  cos(--------) = ln (\/e )
       |                 9

Which, of course, 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'.

And it's correct, too.


This poem was written by John Saxon (an author of math textbooks).

((12 + 144 + 20 + (3 * 4^(1/2))) / 7) + (5 * 11) = 9^2 + 0

Or for those who have trouble with the poem:

A Dozen, a Gross and a Score,
plus three times the square root of four,
divided by seven,
plus five times eleven,
equals nine squared and not a bit more.


       'Tis a favorite project of mine
        A new value of pi to assign.
            I would fix it at 3
            For it's simpler, you see,
        Than 3 point 1 4 1 5 9.

("The Lure of the Limerick" by W.S. Baring-Gould, p.5. Attributed to
Harvey L. Carter).


If inside a circle a line
Hits the center and goes spine to spine
And the line's length is "d"
the circumference will be
d times 3.14159


If (1+x) (real close to 1)
Is raised to the power of 1
Over x, you will find
Here's the value defined:


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.


     Why is the number 10 afraid of seven?

                  -- because seven ate nine.


We use epsilons and deltas in mathematics because mathematicians tend
to make errors.


Q: What's big, grey, and proves the uncountability of the reals?
A: Cantor's Diagonal Elephant!

Q: How can you tell that Harvard was layed out by a mathematician?
A: The div school [divinity school] is right next to the grad school...


The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center was known as SLAC, until the
big earthquake, when it became known as SPLAC.

SPLAC?  Stanford Piecewise Linear Accelerator.


Q:  How many topologists does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  It really doesn't matter, since they'd rather knot.


A mathematician decides he wants to learn more about practical
problems.  He sees a seminar with a nice title: "The Theory of Gears."
So he goes.  The speaker stands up and begins, "The theory of gears
with a real number of teeth is well known ..."


A group of scientists were doing an investigation into problem-solving
techniques, and constructed an experiment involving a physicist, an
engineer, and a mathematician.

The experimental apparatus consisted of a water spigot and two identical
pails, one of which was fastened to the ground ten feet from the spigot.

Each of the subjects was given the second pail, empty, and told to fill the
pail on the ground.

The physicist was the first subject:  he carried his pail to the spigot,
filled it there, carried it full of water to the pail on the ground, and
poured the water into it.  Standing back, he declared, "There: I have
solved the problem."

The engineer and the mathematician each approached the problem similarly.
Upon finishing, the engineer noted that the solution was exact, since the
volumes of the pails were equal.  The mathematician merely noted that he
had proven that a solution exists.

Now, the experimenters altered the parameters of the task a bit:  the pail
on the ground was still empty, but the subjects were presented with a pail
that was already half-filled with water.

The physicist immediately carried his pail over to the one on the ground,
emptied the water into it, went back to the spigot, *filled* the pail, and
finally emptied the entire contents into the pail on the ground,
overflowing it and spilling some of the water.  Upon finishing, he
commented that the problem should have been better stated.

The engineer, in turn, thought for some time before going into action.  He
then took his half-filled pail to the spigot, filled it to the brim, and
filled the pail on the ground from it.  Again he noted that the problem had
an exact solution, which of course he had found.

The mathematician thought for a long time before stirring.  At last he
stood up, emptied his pail onto the ground, and declared, "The problem has
been reduced to one already solved."


Professor Dirac, a famous Applied Mathematician-Physicist, had a horse
shoe over his desk.  One day a student asked if he really believed
that a horse shoe brought luck.  Professor Dirac replied, "I
understand that it brings you luck if you believe in it or not."


First of all let me make it clear that I have nothing against
contravariant functors.  Some of my best friends are cohomology
theories!  But now you aren't supposed to call them contravariant
anymore.  It's Algebraically Correct to call them 'differently

In the same way that transcendental numbers are polynomially

Manifolds are personifolds (humanifolds).

Neighborhoods are neighbor victims of society.

It's the Asian Remainder Theorem.

It isn't PC to use "singularity" - the function is "convergently
challenged" there.


Why did the computer scientist die in the shower?
Because he read the instructions on the shampoo bottle,  "Lather,
rinse, repeat."

Why did the calculus student have so much trouble making Kool-Aid?
Because he couldn't figure out how to get a quart of water into the
little package.

Q: Why do computer scientists confuse Christmas and Halloween?
A: Because Oct 31 = Dec 25


Here are some phrases used to remember SIN, COS, and TAN.
(SIN = Opposite/Hypotenuse, COS = Adjacent/H, TAN = O/A).

1.      SOHCAHTOA       (sock-a-toe-a)

2.      The Cat Sat
        On An Orange
        And Howled Hard

3.      Some Old Hulks
        Carry A Huge
        Tub Of Ale

4.      Silly Old Hitler
        Caused Awful Headaches
        To Our Airmen

5.      Some Old Hag
        Cracked All Her
        Teeth On Asparagus

6.      Some Old Hairy
        Camels Are Hairier
        Than Others Are

7.      Silly Old Harry
        Caught A Herring
        Trawling Off America


9.      Some Old Horse
        Caught Another Horse
        Taking Oats Away

10.     Some Opera Houses       (From:
        Can Always Have
        The Overture Again

--------------------------------units and dimensions-------------

2 monograms                                      1 diagram
8 nickles                                        2 paradigms
2 wharves                                        1 paradox

10E5 bicycles                                    2 megacycles

1 unit of suspense in an Agatha Christie novel   1 whod unit



Q: What goes "Pieces of nine!  Pieces of nine!"?
A: A parroty error!!

[Hint: Compare the binary values of 8 and 9.  -- MLC]


Q: What did the circle say to the tangent line?
A: "Stop touching me!"


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


The upgrade path to the most powerful and satisfying computer:

    * Pocket calculator

    * Commodore Pet / Apple II / TRS 80 / Commodore 64 / Timex Sinclair
      (Choose any of the above)

    * IBM PC

    * Apple Macintosh

    * Fastest workstation of the time (HP, DEC, IBM, SGI: your choice)

    * Minicomputer (HP, DEC, IBM, SGI: your choice)

    * Mainframe (IBM, Cray, DEC: your choice)

And then you reach the pinnacle of modern computing facilities:

*******     G R A D U A T E   S T U D E N T S    ********

Yes, you just sit back and do all of your computing through lowly
graduate students.  Imagine the advantages:

    * Multi-processing, with as many processes as you have
      students.  You can easily add more power by promising more
      desperate undergrads that they can indeed escape college
      through your guidance.  Special student units can even
      handle several tasks *on*their*own*!

    * Full voice recognition interface.  Never touch a keyboard or
      mouse again.  Just mumble commands and they *will* be
      understood (or else!).

    * No hardware upgrades and no installation required.  Every
      student comes complete with all hardware necessary.  Never
      again fry a chip or $10,000 board by improper installation!
      Just sit that sniveling student at a desk, give it writing
      utensils (making sure to point out which is the dangerous
      end) and off it goes.

    * Low maintenance.  Remember when that hard disk crashed in
      your Beta 9900, causing all of your work to go the great bit
      bucket in the sky?  This won't happen with grad students.
      All that is required is that you give them a good *whack!*
      upside the head when they are acting up, and they will run
      good as new.

    * Built-in lifetime.  Remember that awful feeling two years
      after you bought your GigaPlutz mainframe when the new
      faculty member on the block sneered at you because his
      FeelyWup workstation could compute rings around your
      dinosaur?  This doesn't happen with grad students.  When
      they start wearing and losing productivity, simply give them
      the PhD and boot them out onto the street to fend for
      themselves.  Out of sight, out of mind!

    * Cheap fuel: students run on Coca Cola (or the high-octane
      equivalent -- Jolt Cola) and typically consume hot spicy
      chinese dishes, cheap taco substitutes, or completely
      synthetic macaroni replacements.  It is entirely unnecessary
      to plug the student into the wall socket (although this does
      get them going a little faster from time to time).

    * Expansion options.  If your grad students don't seem to be
      performing too well, consider adding a handy system manager
      or software engineer upgrade.  These guys are guaranteed to
      require even less than a student, and typically establish
      permanent residence in the computer room.  You'll never know
      they are around!  (Which you certainly can't say for an
      AXZ3000-69 150 gigahertz space-heater sitting on your desk
      with its ten noisy fans....)  [Note however that the
      engineering department still hasn't worked out some of the
      idiosyncratic bugs in these expansion options, such as
      incessant muttering at nobody in particular, occasionaly
      screaming at your grad students, and posting ridiculous
      messages on world-wide bulletin boards.]

So forget your Babbage Engines and abacuses (abaci?) and PortaBooks
and DEK 666-3D's and all that other silicon garbage.  The wave of the
future is in wetware, so invest in graduate students today!  You'll never
go back!


He thinks he's really smooth, but he's only C^1.
He's always going off on a tangent.


If I have seen farther than others, it is because
I stood on the shoulder of giants.
   -- Isaac Newton

If I have not seen as far as others, it is because
giants were standing on my shoulders.
   -- Hal Abelson

In computer science, we stand on each other's feet.
   -- Brian K. Reid

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