Monday, March 10, 2014

Today's blog is not about 'angry aliens' or moving day at the college dorms

Its not often when an article makes me go all Forrest Gump and gets me mumbling, "I'm not a smart man", but this one did.

Angry alien in packing puzzle shocks mathematicians

Read this story and then take my quiz

These University of Michigan math students were "shocked" because
A) An angry alien ate their square watermelon.
B) An angry alien ate their Chinese takeout.
C) They saw angry aliens after snorting  nanoparticles.

I admit to being a sucker for headlines and this one reeled me in. Some may be shocked to hear this, but I am no mathmagician. That's not to say I don't know my way around an abacus. What I mean to say is, I can count to 11 without removing a shoe (or otherwise put myself at risk of being arrested), so I figure I will understand the gist of this story.

The article starts out simply enough:
When it comes to packing, you can't beat a mathematician. Centuries of work has gone into finding the most efficient ways to pack identical objects into the densest possible arrangements. But the latest experiment shows that a surprising amount of chaos lurks within our attempts to create order.

So far, so good. I read that the head researcher of this group of University of Michigan math students is a female and this experiment has to do with packing objects efficiently. Having some experience moving boys into, and back out of dorm rooms between semesters, I start to believe I know what this article is going to be about.

With my boys, the rule has always been that if it doesn't fit in the back of the van, it doesn't go to school with them. There are more than a few vans in the school parking lot driven by the fathers of the male students on move day. After the futon, TV, electronic game systems and a change of clothes or two, they really have all their basic needs covered.

Watching the female students on move-in or move-out day is a whole different story. The school parking lot is dominated by U-Hauls, tractor trailors, box cars and other 18-wheelers (driven by the fathers of the female students). There are what appears to be teams of Sherpas hauling furniture, boxes (shaped like cubes, 12-sided dodecahedron and tetrahedrons), and clothes from the trucks to the dorms, sometimes having to scale numerous floors of stairs before reaching the summit - hagard looks on the faces of their unshaven and sweaty fathers.

So I was assuming these female students were researching ways to make move day run more efficiently. Or maybe just how to pack their purses less chaotically. Lipstick on the left. Cell phone in this pocket. Angry Aliens zippered here...

However, at this point the article makes a vicious turn by throwing in computer simulations and 3D tetrahedron landscapes. I start to doubt I have any idea what its really all about. Hence my Gump regression. After reading the entire article numerous times, now I'm thinking these University of Michigan math students are upset that an angry alien ate their square watermelon before crawling into their Chinese takeout (this, after snorting nanoparticles).

Seriously. Check it out. But I warn you it may cause fugue-like symptoms. I either zoned out for over an hour in front of this article yesterday, or the clock on my PC changed for daylight savings time. Either way, my eyes were unfocused for an unspecified amount of time as my mind wandered and I daydreamed about angry 12-sided dodecahedron aliens in my fried rice.

And now for a little math humor... they love this in the math lab (or was it the 'meth' lab?)

Infinitely many mathematicians walk into a bar. The first says, "I'll have a beer." The second says, "I'll have half a beer." The third says, "I'll have a quarter of a beer." The barman pulls out just two beers. The mathematicians are all like, "That's all you're giving us? How drunk do you expect us to get on that?" The bartender says, "Come on guys. Know your limits."
The limit of this:

Not that you need it, but here is the explanation: from n=0 to ∞ Σ (1/2n) = 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + ... = 2

HAHA! I know, right?

Or how about this one...

A cube, a 12-sided dodecahedron and a 4-sided pyramid walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, "Is this some kind of joke?"


  1. Well, at least I got the "know your limits."

  2. But I thought it was less than two.

  3. Ed you are right again! This bartender over serves and now there infinitely many inebriated mathematicians at closing time. This could be a problem.