If You Need 654.5 Cubic Inches of Gil Thorp then Today Is Your Lucky Day


My love and I went to Ann Arbor over the weekend because the University of Michigan Natural History Museum is moving to a new building after this month, and we wanted to see the charmingly old-fashioned diorama labels before they get thrown out in favor of some boring old accurate-to-stuff-we’ve-learned-since-1963 text written in Helvetica. But we also stopped in the Dawn Treader used bookstore because why would you not go to a used bookstore like that? And there we spotted … the 1991 Science Fiction Fan Directory, a list of among other things all the bookstores that have major science fiction sections. So there, in the Dawn Treader bookstore, I found the address listed for the Dawn Treader bookstore. And that I found that funny gives you some idea why I am a humor blogger instead of a successful humor blogger.

Anyway, we also found this on the Comics/Humor shelves.

Eight _Gil Thorp_ collections on a bookshelf at the Dawn Treader, Ann Arbor.
Also in the shop, if you want: one of those collections of “the funniest stuff on the Internet” that the publisher insists in the foreward is too in the public domain because it was on the Internet so shut up asking questions. My love took a photo of the introduction and I’m encouraging putting that up on the Internet to insult the guy. Also, really, nothing in that book is going to be as funny as this time on sci.math that someone tried to explain that the then-resident crank’s proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem was wrong by using the crank’s method to attempt to show that 15 should be equal to 3 times 5. It went on for hundreds of words and got nowhere near that or anything else, and I just bet that wasn’t included. Also besides that I think someone bought the collection of the web comic User Friendly that had been there last time.

So yes, that’s eight collections of Gil Thorp comics. Most of them were printed in the mid-2000s, although the Silver Anniversary yearbook on the far left there is dated 1984. It’s a slightly weird set. The books give off many of the signs of being self-published, such as the publisher’s contact information including a comcast.net e-mail address. But not entirely! And the Silver Anniversary book is dated two decades earlier yet looks just about the same, apart from not listing the publisher’s comcast.net e-mail and having a silver rather than white cover. (Trust me on this.) They’re all 8.5-by-11-inch pages, and as you can see, there’s eight books there and it’s got to be at least seven inches thick of reading to get to. That’s why I estimate the volume so.

Obviously Playdown Pandemonium intrigued me because of the promise of explaining what the deal is with “playdowns”. What I learned from skimming it is: the “playdowns” first appeared for the basketball storyline of 1963-64. The introductory text makes it sound like the playdowns are a format for a bunch of teams to get gradually eliminated — played down — to a final two. But that description also matches every playoff format ever, so I’m not enlightened.

Despite the temptation I didn’t buy any of the books, or all of them. But now I have another source of possible bonus content for my Patreon subscribers. We’ll see. Let me know if I have a Patreon.

Oh, also, I had another couple comics with mathematics themes over on the other blog. Thanks.

Comics Strips: Math and Michigan


Over on my mathematics blog I’ve got a fresh roundup of comic strips that mention some kind of mathematical topic, and my thoughts about the topics those inspire. Some of those are even comic strips that don’t use π as a pun on the concept of pie, so, do enjoy that.

If you don’t, then, here’s the Pearls Before Swine comic strip, by Stephan Pastis, which ran this past Sunday. It’s of a familiar enough form — Pastis setting up a shaggy-dog type story to build to violence — but it flops as a comic strip, and I wanted to do some public musing about why.

The setup is contrived, which isn’t inherently a problem. Many Pearls strips are built around transparently contrived setups, usually in the service of a pun or bit of wordplay. Typically I like those, partly because of the long setup and trying to anticipate where he’s going with this and sometimes getting surprised by where he ends up. (He usually then apologizes it away with a final panel of the characters telling him to “get help” or “stop it”, which is trying to deliver an awful pun and stand away from it; but, the structure does seem to demand some resolution after the punch line and an apology is, if not very clever, at least something.)

But in this case I think the contrivance is deeply problematic, undermining the whole strip: to get to the punch, smash, and trample line, we have to suppose Pastis-the-character has bought a Brutus Buckeye costume for an upcoming speech at Ohio State University, and put it on to drive there, and gotten lost driving there, and ended up in Ann Arbor. I’ll waive my wondering whether it’s possible to dial a pay phone while in a mascot costume and while I haven’t actually noticed a pay phone in Ann Arbor it’s the sort of place I can accept as having some.

Now: buying the costume and wearing the costume to go driving are weird behaviors. Eccentric at minimum. Eccentricity isn’t inherently bad — if you’re trying to do comedy, really, and especially if you don’t have a lot of time to delineate your characters then being wildly eccentric lets you get a joke out in recognizable form — but this leaves me wondering who would even do that? The strip falls flat, to me, at the point of getting Pastis into costume and from there the whole thing is lost. Suggested rewrite: he was invited to play Brutus Buckeye at the Ohio State game and he didn’t have time to change at the stadium, which is absurd but at least some kind of motive.

The next bit: He got lost driving to Columbus, Ohio, and ended up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ann Arbor really isn’t near Columbus. It’s a couple hours mostly due north. The only way you can end up in Ann Arbor if you’re driving to Columbus is if you’re driving from Michigan, in which case, well, you’ve heard of Ann Arbor. This can maybe be patched up a little, by supposing that Pastis flew into Detroit for something (perhaps that should be the speech he was giving?), bought his Buckeye costume (from where?) and then started driving to Columbus, which is weak but at least puts together a minimally plausible scenario where Pastis might be in a Buckeye costume in Ann Arbor.

Also, he should have had the strip published the weekend of November 30th, when the University of Michigan is to play Ohio State (in Ann Arbor, conveniently enough), so the implied buildup to the battery is the more credible.

The State of the University


Good afternoon and I’d like to thank everyone for attending this State of the University address. I’m sorry it’s going to be a little ragged but I kind of have to patch up the parts where the Public Relations department told me I couldn’t use words like that in public. I think they’re being a little … well, I mean, we all use words like that sometimes, right? Well. Anyway.

As anyone who’s walked through the deserted wings of the main quadrangle or “quad” as I’m told by informed people who’ve met students tell me they call it knows, we have suffered an under-enrollment problem in the past few years, affecting our ability to fill such levée-en-masse courses as Grueling Calculus and the basic Great Works Of Agonizingly Boring Literature Or Maybe Movies. This isn’t just a problem at our school, so please stop writing us about it. We have taken several pro-active steps to improve population. Even as we speak we have an unmarked van driving slowly around Ann Arbor, and when they locate people who seem to be about the right age for college they swoop down with the giant nets and bring the prospective students back here where they’re to remain until completing at least five years or study or accumulating $185,000 in student loan obligations.

The first several attempts for this new plan have been a little disappointing, owing to unusually large holes in the nets, but as this new revenue stream comes up to speed we hope to be able to afford patching some of them and creating what they call a “virtuous circle” of improved student body acquisition. Ah, so that probably answers the question a lot of faculty have been asking me about why some of the students have long ropes tied to their ankles.

Continue reading “The State of the University”

It’s Not My Fault Except For Starting It


OK, we were just playing Rock Band and we got around to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” because Survivors’ “Eye of the Tiger”, and we were doing all right. Only when we started singing some of the other people in the room started singing along, and that’s fine and I don’t think we were getting Music angry at us for doing it. And then some people out in the hall heard and started in, from the top of the lyrics ecause that’s just easier for everyone converned, isn’t it? And then some people farther down from that started in and, well, anyway, the mass of people singing “Eye of the Tiger” is expected to reach Ann Arbor within the hour, and it if it can get past security at Detroit International Airport it might hit the whole country by the time you read this.

Anyway, it’s not my fault because how were we supposed to know anyone would join in? And it could have been worse because it could have been Queen’s “We are the Champions”, which would make Ann Arbor just feel terrible this week. I scored 88 percent on the Super Easy mode and was scolded as an energy hoarder, whatever that means.