Remembering The Good Things


The good thing about humanity is realizing just how much we all aren’t doomed.

The fence at an amusement park has a sign WARNING: Do not Sit or Lean on Fence. Facing away from it is a person sitting on the fence, and resting a big backpack.
Photograph taken by me at Kennywood amusement park last year, that I’m owning up to now because the statute of limitations has passed and the original owner can’t complain to the authorities. Yes, the ride being exited from there is called the Kangaroo, but that’s a bit of a misnomer as you don’t go riding in the pouch of anything for it. You are thinking of Zamperla’s Kang’A’Bounce ride instead.

Everything Interesting There Is To Say About Dividing Numbers


Many people have written here to the Department of English to ask about dividing numbers. We think they’ve entered some code wrong. But in the spirit of open-minded civic cooperation we shall try to help.

There are many reasons to divide one number by another. For example, one can use it to adapt a recipe so that you can make an amount for fewer people than the recipe figures on. Recipes often need to be divided, we guess. The person writing the recipe assumed you were excluding fewer people from your meals, because they were not on social media at the time.

You need to have an objective before checking a number’s divisibility. This keeps you from doing something absurd like finding out whether you can divide 96,133 by 251, considering that neither number is at all believable. By “number” we mean “whole number”. These are numbers which are at least two percent fat by volume. Skim numbers follow different rules, but are healthier, and taste more like watercolor paint.

Do check that your numbers are in base ten. This won’t often be a problem. Base ten is popular in places where people mostly have ten fingers per person. There are some people enthusiastic about other bases. Other bases let you do things like figure out what the 69,281st digit of π is in base 32. Or insist that it’s a funny joke to say “Halloween is equivalent to Christmas” and insist that’s true. Smile at these people and move on with your life. Do not bring up base eleven. They’ll start talking the history of the metric system.

Divisibility starts with 1. This is easy enough since everything is divisible by 1. This is the result of 1 winning a fourth-round bye in the Numeric Invitational Tournament. (The first through third-round byes won money instead.) 10 is also a pretty good number to divide by. If a number ends in zero you can divide it by 10, and for that matter by 5. This makes 5 sound pretty free-wheeling. 2 is a more needy number and insists that any numbers ending in 0, 2, 4, 6, 10, 18, 64, 98, 144, or 69,282 divide by it. There is no point arguing with 2 about this point anymore. Let it have these. Do not let it have 251.

Things get tricky around 3, which should surprise nobody, given the number’s pointiness. But there’s hope. Take all the digits of your number and add them up. If that sum is divisible by 3 then so was your original number. Yes, we’re still stuck on whether some number can be divided 3, but it’s a different number. By keeping a list of all the numbers we’re considering divisibility by three we can show we’re working hard and taking this problem seriously. Later we can learn that we did the adding-up wrong, costing us one point but not much affecting our grade.

A number is divisible by 4 when the corresponding year is a Presidential Election Year in the United States. Unfortunately this means you might be waiting around for hundreds or thousands of years to check. Plus the rule is no good for anything below 1788. Maybe someday we’ll discover a different method that’s practical instead.

Nothing is divisible by 17, but who would want that anyway?

Simplicity itself is the test for whether something is divisible by 21. Start with the last digit of the number you’re testing. Now make a copy, in case the number needs to be remastered at some point. Add to that last digit ten times the digit to the left of the last digit. Then subtract five times the digit to the left of that. Once you’ve got that done, simply add four times the digit to the left of that one. From that sum subtract twice the digit to the left of that. If you’ve got any digits left over then add one times that. If anything is still left over, go back around the multiplying and subtracting or adding like before. And voila: if the new number you get is divisible by 21 so was the original! It’s amazing there are people who need this explained to them even today, but it was Thursday all day. We can’t expect too much.

If you should find your recipe contains a number that can’t be divided, then you can’t make the recipe until you start talking to people again. We don’t know how to help with that. You can leave a note that you’ll accept an apology when they feel courageous enough to offer one. This has never worked for anyone, ever. But hey, good luck to you!

Statistics Saturday: Some Obscure Football Rules


  1. After three overtimes the game will be settled by a fifteen-word spelling bee.
  2. A regulation field is 120 yards in length, 53 and 1/3d yards in width, and 1.16 light-seconds in height, extending six feet, two inches below the surface of the ground.
  3. Any kind of zebra, whether talking or not, is specifically prohibited from playing in the Super Bowl.
  4. Team uniforms are not allowed to be chroma-key green.
  5. The zebra’s also prohibited from the Pro Bowl, Conference Championships, and the Divisional Rounds.
  6. No licking the ball after the two-minute warning.
  7. Yes, a zebra is allowed to play in the wild-card round, but only as a field goal kicker.
  8. All players must exist in no fewer than three dimensions of space and one of time.
  9. If by some chance the offensive team gets to a 7th Down that’s automatically one point.
  10. It’s a 20-yard penalty and loss of possession for four or more players on the offensive team to blep their tongues out simultaneously while behind the line of scrimmage.
  11. No player is allowed to wear his helmet either backwards or on either foot during the game. (However, this rule has never been enforced at the professional level.)
  12. It’s prohibited to use the player’s bench as a workbench for light carpentry projects.

Source: The Kaiser’s Merchant Ships in World War I, William Lowell Putnam.

Statistics Saturday: Things Found In The ‘Cans And Bottles’ Recycling Bin


  • Styrofoam coffee cup
  • Cherry Coke Zero can
  • Paper coffee cup, half-cup of tea
  • Banana peel
  • Four-day-old newspaper
  • Dr Pepper Cherry Vanilla bottle
  • Bundle of plastic wrapped around itself
  • Oatmeal cookie
  • Paperclip
  • Snow
  • Unmailed, unaddressed Christmas card envelope torn open
  • Sprite Zero Cranberry can

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Analysts say the Another Blog, Meanwhile index was unchanged today because what started out as a casual staring contest turned into a who-can-stay-quiet-the-longest contest, and from there it was a short step to a who-can-hold-their-breath-the-longest contest. In all the contesting nobody got around to doing any trading. No, nobody held their breath long enough to pass out and we’re getting to think that isn’t a thing that can actually happen.

121

How To Write Out Numbers


Here are some rules for writing numbers.

For whole numbers under ten, write them out as words. For ten, 11, and twelve, discuss the matter with your copy editor, engaging in a long-running and frank exchange of typographical views that will, as always, end with at least one of the parties arrested for stuffing a body part into a toaster on the “bagel” setting that is itself stuffed into a composting pit, and might bring in some other parties who will discover they can not believe these other people are allowed to vote or hold sharp objects such as hula hoops. If the argument is not productive enough bring up the matter of zero and what results will surely end with arson. For numbers larger than twelve use digits, as they’re too tedious if given the chance to be words. Exceptions: googol googolplex either neither fimble flumble seizure leisure sixty-four caffeine.

When writing a string of numbers it’s important to alternate between digits and words for clarity, as for example in the famous aircraft being the Boeing “seven40seven” or the less famous aircraft the Boeing “7.thirty.7”. In addition to reading clarity the graphic design potential is powerful, and if you can’t imagine a trendy club writing its address this way you’ve failed graphic design class and probably can’t even recognize Futura when you see it, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person but does mean we’ll have to have someone watching whenever you walk into the campus’s Fine Arts Library.

Percentages should never be referred to in print, as they make the reader suspect this is a word problem and the reader will go off to the bridge column. They may be used in PowerPoint slides only if the percent symbol is animated, rotating around one or two axes but not the third.

Negative numbers require special protection so as not to startle skittish readers. Besides being denoted with a minus sign they should be preceded by a man on foot waving a large red flag, and followed by another man ringing a bell. It is good practice to surround the number in parentheses, in case of spilling, and to be printed in red ink, lest the supply of red ink get noticeably too large. At that, you’ll want to have your copy reviewed by trained professional mathematicians. Do not rely on the untrained kind, as they will try to clean up spilled negative numbers by having them (the numbers) eaten by a goat. Trained professional mathematicians will call in something from accredited accounting ungulates.

Imaginary numbers may be written any old way you like, as the non-mathematical reader thinks you’re just making them up anyway, while the mathematically inclined roll their eyes and sigh knowingly whenever the subject comes up. Really, you probably don’t even have to do that much. Rewrite the sentence to avoid the whole subject, even if you have to change the essay’s subject from the history of polynomials into, oh, lumps of putty.

If you need to pluralize a number go wild and add an apostrophe before the s or es, as in: 7.thirty.7’es. In fact, nobody’s ever lived to regret adding apostrophes where they’re not needed, so, what the heck, toss in something so, like, this year is known as 201’4, or the population of the United States as 317′,84’2,’000. Apostrophes are also cool if you need to omit the part of the number that’s boring. Why not try writing the volume of your refrigerator in cubic inches as 14’82 and leave the reader to work out the omitted numbers for their fun and mental exercise, other than that if the reader finds out where you live they might jab you with an apostrophe in front of the toaster?

Know the difference between ordinal and cardinal numbers! If mixed they will fight until one is stuffed into a toaster and the other sneaks off to make long-distance calls on your land line. In cases of ambiguity remember that cardinal numbers are nearly invariably Rh-positive while ordinal numbers are afraid of bats, owing to the longstanding resentment of ordinal numbers for vampire novels after their manuscripts were rejected.

If you don’t like those rules, try some other ones. That’ll go well.

A Standard Scheme


The easiest way to attract endless angry grumbling is to prepare your very own set of Usage Guidelines and insist on someone else following them. The United States is the world’s greatest exporter of Usage Guidelines, averaging over 48,660,000 new policies promulgated annually to cover everything from how many spaces to put after the period ending sentences to how many little paper cups of Horsey Sauce to take at Arby’s at one time. These policies are instantly resented by everyone they are applied against, and compliance rises to as high as nearly 0.296 people per year.

So I’m leaping into the Usage Guideline racket: there’s no better way to express my idealistic hopes that the world can be perfected by enacting a few trivially easy changes in the ways people do things, there’s no surer way of making myself embittered than watching everyone carry on in their un-enlightened fashion, and in the meanwhile I can sell nearly more than fourteen copies of books explaining the guidelines to members of the adoring public who thought they were buying sarcastic atlases instead.

Don’t worry. Before long I’ll have comment forms in place so you can suggest new standards for me to consider, provided you do submit them in the correct way.

How To Be Likable


Many people, particularly introverts, haven’t got the knack of being liked. They try hard enough, by not particularly disliking anyone, and yet still find that people don’t show any signs of liking them, or disliking them, or being aware of their existence, resulting in many cases of shy, bookish people being mistaken for eighth-grade cafeteria tables. Fortunately, being liked doesn’t require special magic, just the steady following of a couple simple rules. Let’s review some.

Continue reading “How To Be Likable”