If you ask someone a question, and he gives you an entirely accurate answer that is of no practical use whatsoever, he has just given you a Mathematician's Answer.
A common form of giving a Mathematician's Answer is to fully evaluate the logic of the question and give a logically correct answer. Such a response may prove confusing for someone who interpreted what they said colloquially.
Examples include questions involving "can you do [favor]...?" being interpreted as a hypothetical "are you capable of doing [favor]?" instead of its more common intent as a request to actually do it (this is a favorite of English teachers and Grammar Nazis, frequently going through something similar to "Can I come in?" "I don't know, are you able to?" "Uh, may I come in?") Another common form is when a character is asked "Is it A or B?" they will respond, "Yes" as if it was a question of Boolean logic rather than clarifying which specific one is the case (though this can also occur if the responder does not know the answer, or considers both answers correct. This crops up a lot in Real Life, especially in the world of computers.) A third variant is when a question beginning with "How" (being asked in the sense of "By what means does X occur?") is answered with an adverb or adverbial phrase (responding as if the question had been "In what manner does X occur?"). For example: "How did you get past the guards?" "With difficulty."
Can be used by characters for reasons ranging from snarky humor to intentional obfuscation to being extremely Literal-Minded — AI and other Literal Genies by their nature are very likely to fall into the last category.
Can overlap with Shaped Like Itself when the question is seeking a description, and with Captain Obvious, as these answers tend to be self-evident for anyone with a brain. Usually doubles as a Cryptically Unhelpful Answer, when the "mathematician" is deliberately trying to confound the questioner. Compare Non Answer, which is a vague "answer" which does not answer the question at all. Mildly related to What's a Henway? and Not Actually The Ultimate Question. And don't forget that the person giving the Mathematician's Answer is "technically correct ... the best kind of correct."
Its origins lie in the joke about a man in a hot-air balloon who asked someone where he was. "You're in a balloon," he answered. The rider concluded that it was a mathematician that said that, because the answer was perfectly correct and completely useless. (The joke usually ends with the mathematician deducing the man in the balloon is a manager, because he has risen to his position with a lot of hot air, has no idea where he is or where he is going, and yet claims this is the fault of the innocent person standing below him.)
"How Many?" "All Of Them" is a subtrope that's its own Stock Phrase. See also What's a Henway?. Contrast Implied Answer when the question isn't answered at all, and the meaning is quite clear.
Compare with Non Answer.
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A commercial for Lyrica begins with a voiceover along the lines of: "I was wondering why I had muscle pain, so I asked my doctor. It turns out, connected to muscles are nerves which send pain messages to the brain."
This may be a rare example of an unintentional Mathematician's Answer. The idea could be to inform the audience that pain doesn't just exist in the pained part of the body, and that not all treatment of pain actually has to directly affect the pained part (something which may seem obvious to most people, especially if you know about phantom pain, but not to everyone).
A commercial for Budweiser (or Miller Draft) had a guy describe something as beautiful, refreshing, etc. as he was grabbing a beer near a woman. The woman asks if he was describing the beer, or her, his reply is "Yes."
A commercial for Grey Poupon mustard has one Rolls-Royce pull up to another, and they both roll down their windows. One man asks, "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?" The other replies, "But of course!" - then signals his chauffeur to drive away.
A Nike "Find Your Greatness" spot goes something like this: "Is it speed or endurance? Does it happen in two hours or four or six? Is it finishing strong or barely finishing? Yes." "It" is ostensibly greatness.
From X-Statix: "He's... "connecting" in some way to what he's lost." "Is that a good or bad thing?" "Yes."
Lucky Luke's horse can speak, but seeing as it's a horse, even Lucky Luke is baffled when he sees it on the riverbank, fishing.
Lucky Luke: How did you get the bait on the hook?
Jolly Jumper: With disgust, just like everybody else.
In one Big Bang Comics story, the Quizmaster is trying to get the Knight Watchman to reveal his secret identity — by having him play 20 questions while hooked up to a lie detector, and killing his sidekick Kid Galahad if he lies! For his first question, he asks the Watchman whom he would be if he weren't wearing his costume. The Watchman replies "I can truthfully say that I would still be myself!"
The Watchman tries to give a similar answer to the question "Who is Kid Galahad, in reality?"; he manages to avoid the answer the Quizmaster wanted, but is forced to give away some information: "In all earnestness I'll have to tell you that he's really my nephew!"
Murphy: Okay, first case. We have several murders to get to.
Dresden: Solving or causing?
Murphy: (Growling) Yes.
In Families, most of the answers the Keeper gives to Twilight are this. This is partially because she's not allowed to give straightforward answers, and partially because it's fun.
Turnabout Storm: After a ridiculously laconic testimony by one of the witnesses, Phoenix struggles to get any uselful information out of her. When he asks her about what she was doing near the crime scene in the first place, the prosecution interrupts:
Trixie: We already know what she was doing there. She was observing the crime.
Return of the Jedi: "R2! What are you doing here?... Well, I can see you're serving drinks..."
In It's a Wonderful Life, George asks the pregnant Mary, "Is it a boy or a girl?" Mary just nods enthusiastically.
In the 2006 Pink Panther movie starring Steve Martin, a reporter asks Inspector Clouseau if they (the police) know if the killer is a man or a woman. Clouseau's answer is: "Well of course I know that! What else is there, a kitten?"
Also, when he quotes someone about politics, Yvette asks him if he said it, meaning if he is the original author of he quote. Clouseau takes the question literally and, after confusingly looking around for someone else, answers "yes."
In The return of the Pink Panther, Clouseau doesn't know the location of his next destination, so he asks a person on the street "Do you know where X is?". The person answers "Yes" and keeps walking.
In The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Clouseau enters an inn, sees a dog, and asks the innkeeper if his dog bites. The answer he gets is technically correct...
The salesman in the original Total Recall 1990 trying to sell a Rekall trip says the same thing. "Doug, let me ask you what's wrong with every vacation you've ever taken? You! No matter where you go, there you are."
Sosa: Gilbert, you've either deliberately aided and abetted a federal fugitive's escape, or you're the single dumbest human being I've ever come into contact with. Would you like to know which way I'm leaning?
Door Gunner: Easy. You just don't lead 'em so much. (Laughing) Ain't war hell?
In "Sons of the Desert", Stan and Ollie wouldn't get back home until they came up with a cover story for an escapade. When interrogated by cops about their places of residence, Ollie claimed to live at home and Stan said he was Ollie's next door neighbor. Stan, being Stan, told a really useful answer later.
At the beginning of Ocean's Eleven, Danny Ocean is at his hearing to determine if he is fit to be released from prison.
Male Examiner: You have a history of arrests, but you have never been successfully charged. Is there a particular reason you chose to commit this crime, or a reason you simply got caught this time?
Danny: My wife left me. I fell into a self-destructive pattern.
Caesar Flickerman: So, Peeta, how are you finding the Capitol? And don't say "with a map".
In order to test their reactions to emergencies, a man lights a small, harmless fire outside each of the offices of three men: an engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician. First, the engineer sees his. He shrieks "Oh my God, a fire!" Then, he grabs a fire extinguisher and blasts the flames, putting the fire out completely but, in the process, damaging the office complex more than the fire could have possibly done. Next, the physicist sees his fire. He screams "Oh my God, a fire!" but then quickly calms down.Note This joke was written by physicists. He walks up to the fire, measures it, goes to the lab to run some tests, runs a computer simulation, samples the carpet and tests it for flammability, and then returns with a test tube of just the right amount of water, which he pours in the exact right spot, extinguishing the fire without a trace. Finally, the mathematician sees his fire. He screams "Oh my God, a fire!" and runs back into his office. He races to his desk, grabs a box of matches, lights one, blows it out, then returns to work, satisfied that the problem can be solved.
Let's get the punchline right: The mathematician looks at the fire, looks at the bucket of water, then says, with a satisfied nod, "A solution exists", and returns to work. (Oh yeah, the setup also included buckets of water left nearby.)
On similar lines: An engineer, an applied mathematician and a pure mathematician are asked how to put out a burning house. The engineer replies 'pour water on the fire'. The applied mathematician replies 'calculate how much water is needed to put it out', and the pure mathematician replies 'first light a match and throw it through the window, to make sure it is on fire. Then ask the applied mathematician.'
A mathematician is given a kettle and asked to boil water. He fills it with water, plugs it in, and switches it on. He is then given the same task, but this time the kettle is already plugged in and full of water. He unplugs it and empties it, thus reducing it to a previously-solved problem.
A physicist, a biologist and a mathematican saw two men entering a house and three men getting out. The physicist said, "The measurements are not correct." The biologist said, "They have reproduced." The mathematician said, "If exactly one person enters the house it will be empty again."
According to a joke, a helicopter is lost in the fog and the pilot shows a sign to the people in the nearby skyscraper, asking them where he is. The answer: "You are in a helicopter." Ironically, the answer does prove useful, since a skyscraper filled with people who all play by this trope can only be the Microsoft tech support building.
A man goes up in a hot air balloon. After a while, he drifts away from the right grounds, becoming lost. He worries about his plight and decides that the best way to return to the balloon grounds is to ask the next person he sees. Finally, he spots a hiker. He calls down, "Hey, where am I?" She waits for a while as the balloon starts to drift away, staring up at him. She remains silent until he believes that she hasn't heard him, then she yells, "You're in a balloon moving at 3.2 knots NWW (failing to account for the cross-breeze, which is 0.07 knots SE and increasing). Accounting for Doppler distortion, you..."
She goes on like this for several minutes. When she finishes the man yells down, "Hey, are you a mathematician?"
"Yes," she replies. "How'd you know?"
"Well, first of all, you took a while to answer. Furthermore, everything you said was absolutely correct. Lastly, it was all absolutely useless." He angrily continues to drift away.
"Hey!" she yells.
"Are you in management?"
He stares down in genuine surprise. "Yes. How'd you know?"
"Well, you got to where you are on a balloon of hot air. You don't know where you are or where you're going. You expect the people below you to solve your problems. Even though everything I told you was correct, you have no idea how to use it. Finally, even though your situation hasn't changed in the slightest, somehow you believe it's become my freaking fault!"
The tech people have their own version of this joke:
Man in helicopter: Excuse me, where am I?
Passerby: You're in a helicopter about 20 ft. off the ground.
Man in helicopter: You must be in tech support.
Passerby: I am. How did you know?
Man in helicopter: Your answer was technically correct but completely useless.
Passerby: You must be a businessman.
Man in helicopter: I am. How did you know?
Passerby: Because you don't know where you are or where you need to go, but you expect me to be able to help. You're no worse off than you were before, but now you think it's my fault.
There's a joke that goes like this:
person A: What does your dad do for a living?
person B: My dad's dead.
person A: Well, what did he do before he died?
person B: He sorta clutched at his chest and fell over.
There's an old joke about asking for directions that goes along these lines:
Driver: Excuse me sir, but does this road go to London? (Or the name of any place)
Pedestrian: This road, sir? No, sir. Tends to stay right where it is.
or: No, they keep it here and drive cars on it.
Tourist: Excuse me, sir. If I go down the street and take a left, will the train station be there?
Local: You know, the train station will be there even if you don't take a left.
There's another old joke, where a tourist lost in New York asks a street musician for directions:
Tourist: Excuse me, sir. How do I get to Carnegie Hall?
Musician: Practice, man! Practice!
Person A: Have you lived here all your life?
Person B: Not yet.
Fat lady math teacher: Jimmy, pay attention! How much consumption until I reach Buffalo?
Physicist: Well, all we know for sure is that some sheep in Scotland are black.
Mathematician: All we can be sure of is that, in Scotland, there is at least one sheep that is black on at least one side.
Or this joke (when sitting at the table): "Can I have the butter?" "Yes." "Can you pass it to me?" "Yes." (beat) "What, now?"
Some teachers are fond of using this when kids ask to go to the bathroom, especially when they say "can" (asking if they're physically capable) instead of "may" (asking for permission):
Student: Mr. Smith, can I go to the bathroom?
Teacher: I don't know, can ya? Sit down.
There are rebuttals to this joke due to the prevalence of this by teachers and parents. One is to remind them that having the capacity to do so also requires their permission, so you are not capable of arriving at the bathroom if they deny you access. The other rebuttal uses word rules since the definition of "can" does allow for the original question to be correctly used.
"When I was using can I was using its secondary model form as a verbal modifier asking for permission, as opposed to expressing an ability. I thought since you were a teacher you'd know that."
Russian variation of the balloon joke: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, being drifted away in a hot air balloon, finally spot a cowherd below and ask him where they are.
- You are in a hot air balloon.
- Watson, we're in Russia.
- But Holmes, how can you know that?
- See, that man below is a mathematician. His answer is both correct and totally useless.
- I see, but what has Russia to do with that?
- Because only in Russia do they use mathematicians to herd cows!
"When I got home from work last night, my wife demanded that I take her someplace expensive so I took her to a gas station".
In Eragon, Brom and the titular character's first meeting with the witch Angela involves Mathematician answers as Brom successively asks her if she knows where the house of the person he is looking for is, and then would she tell him where it is, both her answers being in the affirmative. Brom and Eragon then stand there waiting until she looks up and tells them that, yes, she knows where the house is, and yes, she will tell them where it is, but they never directly asked her which house was the one they were looking for.
In Halo: The Fall Of Reach, during a test of the MJOLNIR armor with shields Cortana asked the Master Chief what his plan was for dealing with a squad of ODST marines. He responded, "I'm going to finish counting to ten," because he had been instructed to do so.
In the book The Westing Game, Jake Wexler lists his position as "standing or sitting when not lying down."
Raymond Smullyan collected these:
General asks computer a two-part question: "1. Will the rocket reach the moon? 2. Will the rocket return to Earth?" Computer answers "yes." General asks, "Yes what?" Computer answers "Yes, sir."
"Where does this road go?" "It isn't going anywhere. It's just staying put."
One Vermont farmer approaches another. "My horse is sick. What did you give your horse when it was sick?" "Hay and molasses." Two weeks later: "I gave my horse hay and molasses, and it died." "Yep, so did mine."
Demons were like genies or philosophy professors - if you didn't word things exactly right, they delighted in giving you absolutely accurate [...] answers.
As mentioned in Hogfather, when questioned about the origins of life, the philosopher Didactylos set forth this theory:
Things just happened. What the hell?
The real problem with Mathematician's Answers in Discworld is that they often AREN'T — they're very accurate statements of the fact that, in a world where symbolism, belief, and narrative causality are physical laws of the universe, it is possible for something to be two different and contradictory things simultaneously.
When Zaphod learns that Marvin is waiting for them in the car park at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (and has been for several trillion years), he asks what he's doing there. Marvin's answer? Parking cars. What else would he be doing there?
"42". For those that don't know about this, an alien race constructs a massive supercomputer in order to learn "The answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything". The computer, after seven and a half million years of computation, comes back with "42". When asked about this, the computer responds that it is able to figure out the answer, but they need another computer to calculate what the question is. The programmers, afraid of the mob's reaction to this nonsense, just make up the question: "How many roadsmust a man walk down?"
Arthur Dent: You know, it's at times like this, when I'm stuck in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, about to die of asphyxiation in deep space, that I really wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was young.
Ford Prefect: Why? What did she tell you?
Arthur Dent: I don't know! I didn't listen!
In Life, the Universe and Everything, there is the character Prak. In a court case, he was injected with too much truth serum, and then he was instructed to tell "the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth." He responds by telling them everything that is true about, well, Life, the Universe, and Everything. Everyone present had to flee, leaving him alone telling the Truth, however by the time the protagonists arrive he has finished, telling them that there's not as much to it as one might expect, that he has forgotten it all now, but some of the best bits involved frogs and Arthur Dent.
Jarlaxle the drow from R.A. Salvatore's series of Drizzt books is so fond of the Mathematician's Answer that "Yes" might as well be his catch phrase.
Animorphs After being told by the resident friendly alien member of the team that they have all been dragged through a fracture in space-time continuum
Jake: Did we go forward or back? Are we in the past or the future?
Ax: Yes. It's definitely one of those two choices.
Yet another of Peter David's favorite literature tricks to tweak the nose of higher-class people (especially Vulcans in his Star Trek novels): The high-class person asks, "May I ask where you're going?" The person answers, "Yes". It takes the Vulcan a second to comprehend.
In the Dragaera series, this is one of the things Hawklords are known for. It's also why Vlad would have killed Daymar out of sheer annoyance if it wasn't for his invaluable psychic skills.
Used by the Logician in the Ionesco play Rhinocéros.
In The Last Watch, when Edgar uses a truth spell on Rustam, this exchange takes place:
Edgar: How can I take the Crown of All Things? Rustam: With your hands.
Weirdly, this answer is wrong.
Momo is leaning hard into the direction of being a smart ass.
"As far as I can remember... I've always been around."
In David Weber's Safehold series, Nimue/Merlin's AI assistant Owl persists in responding to her/his questions with literal answers, despite the manufacturer's assertion that it's supposed to learn to reply colloquially. It finally begins to show some improvements in the fourth book, A Mighty Fortress.
"Be careful what she teaches her," Adams said, without looking up. "You might get a very nasty surprise." "Are you talking about Anastasia teaching Katya or the other way around?" Nielson asked, grinning. "Yes."
In Isaac Asimov's Black Widowers story Truth to Tell the monthly guest, a man who never tells a lie, is suspected of a crime which it seems only he could have committed, but he continually denies it, saying: "I didn't take the cash or the bonds." However the waiter, Henry, asks him: "Did you take the cash and the bonds?" The guest declines to answer and leaves.
This is using the word or differently than usual, but inversely compared to how this trope is normally played out. In normal speech, or is used as an exclusive or, unless in a negative sentence, such as here, which is normally an inclusive or. He's using it as an exclusive or, and as that excluds the possibility of taking both, he's technically telling the truth.
Used in Simon R. Green's Wolf in the Fold, when Hawk and Fisher question suspects about the two murders under a truthspell. All the suspects can correctly answer "No" when asked if they murdered Victim #1 and Victim #2, because the two deaths were the handiwork of different killers.
An example where this is not played for laughs occurs in The Dresden Files novel Small Favor, when Harry brings the injured Valkyrie Gard to Michael Carpenter's house for treatment. Michael's fellow Knight Sanya is there and is examining Gard, noting that she is more than human. He asks "The woman. What is she?" to which Harry responds "Injured." Sanya understands the implied rebuke immediately and apologizes.
Shadow: Where are we? Am I on the tree? Am I dead? Am I here? I thought everything was finished. What's real?
Whiskey Jack: Yes.
Shadow:Yes? What kind of an answer is Yes?
Whiskey Jack: It's a good answer. True answer too.
Shadow gets one from Sweeney as well
Sweeney: [performs an elaborate coin vanishing trick]
Shadow: We have to talk about that. I need to know how you did it.
Sweeney: I did it with panache and style.
How Rude!, an etiquette book aimed at teenagers, contains an anecdote from the author. He attempted to call a friend of his and the friend's five-year-old son answered. When the author asked if his daddy was there, the boy replied, "Yes."
David Edding's Belgariad. One of the most memorable ones was when Durnik went to ask a fisherman about the situation on the other side of a river.
Durnik: The fish are biting.
Belgarath: I meant on the other side.
Durnik: I did not ask, but if the fish are biting on this side, it would only stand to reason they are biting over there too, doesn't it?
During Galaxy Of Fear, the Arrandas and their uncle Hoole find a human where no humans should be. They ask him how he got there, he says "I walked."
Storm of Swords. Jamie Lannister, being interrogated by Catelyn Stark about the circumstances of an attempt made on Brann Stark's life after he witnessed something incriminating, uses this to avoid giving away any of his true reasons.
Catelyn: You pushed my son out a window. Why? Jamie: I hoped the fall would kill him.
Kosh: They are alone. They are a dying people. We should let them pass.
Sinclair: Who? The Narns or the Centauri?
Everything that Kosh says is not exactly helpful:
Sheridan:"How do I know you're the same Vorlon? Inside that encounter suit, you could be anyone."
Kosh:"I have always been here."
Sheridan:"Oh yeah? You said that about me, too."
Sheridan:"I really hate it when you do that."
In one case, Sheridan had asked what was in the random access hatch Kosh had led him to. Kosh's answer was "One moment of perfect beauty." Sheridan lampshades this: "Well, as answers go, short, to the point, utterly useless and totally consistent with what I've come to expect from a Vorlon." It turns out, this is a completely factual statement, though it makes no sense until you can see the context. This gets Lampshaded again in the same episode when Ivanova asks Sheridan what Kosh showed him. Sheridan responds "Beauty...in the dark." Ivanova remarks that Kosh's lessons must be working, because Sheridan is starting to talk like a Vorlon.
According to the RPG, the Vorlon don't usually do it on purpose: their language is fully telepathic, and most of the usually deep meaning is lost in translation due them not being used at voicing it. Then again, sometimes we get Vorlon like Kosh, who is capable of expressing himself (relatively) well with a voice but still leaves out details, either to have people think and realize what he mean by themselves, because what he was asked is meant to stay secret, or just for the hell of it.
The Drakh do the same in season 4: "Drakh? Is that your name or your species?" "Yes."
The French-Canadian sitcom Un Gars Une Fille (A Guy and a Girl), has the titular Guy ask his girlfriend which of two wines she wants for supper. She answers "Yes." This prompts him to reply "When someone gives you a choice between two things, you can't answer with yes! If you're afraid of committing to a decision, do you want me to pick for you, or do you want me to leave choices up to you?" Her answer? "Yes! Yes Yes Yes!"
Star Trek has come up with the Heisenberg compensator, allowing the transporter to get around the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. When asked how it works, Mike Okuda's response was '[It] works just fine, thank you.'
On Deep Space Nine, Odo is asked by Lwaxana Troi if Odo is his first or last name. Yes, it is.
In a later episode, we get to know that Odo is his first name. His second is Ital. (The Cardassian word Odo'ital means "Unknown Sample," which is exactly what he was to the scientists who discovered him.)
Well, he was named on Bajor, where the Eastern name order is accepted, so it's still Mathematician's.
On an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Wesley talks to The Custodian (a computer), after having been told he's allowed to ask of it any question:
Wesley: Custodian, can you show me where Harry is?
Zoe: This Doctor friend of yours. Is he a scientist? Jamie: He is in a way I suppose, yes. Zoe: What's his speciality? Jamie: His what? Zoe: Well, is he a physicist, biochemist, astronomer, biometrician? Jamie:Yes, he is.
Given a serious purpose in an episode of The West Wing, when Oliver Babish is preparing C.J. to answer questions before Congress:
Babish: Do you know what time it is? C.J.: It's five past noon. Babish: I'd like you to get out of the habit of doing that. C.J.: Doing what? Babish: Answering more than was asked... Do you know what time it is? (C.J. stares at him silently for several moments) C.J.: Yes.
Though also played for laughs when Will is attempting to obfuscate an angry general:
General: Are you rewriting the foreign policy section? Will: Yes. General: Dramatically? Will: I like to think I have a certain flair...
Done twice in the pilot, both times played for laughs. First, when Leo is looking for Josh and goes to Donna, who's sitting at her desk:
Leo: Is (Josh) there? Donna: Yes. (Beat) Leo: Could you get him? Donna: (yelling towards Josh's office) Josh! Leo:Thanks.
And then a bit later, between Leo and Mrs. Landingham, when they're talking about the President's bike accident:
Mrs. Landingham: Have they done an X-ray?
Mrs. Landingham: Is anything broken?
Leo: A $4000 Lynex Titanium touring bike that I swore I'd never lend anyone.
On Just Shoot Me!, when Elliot asks Dennis if he's licking stamps, Dennis answers sarcastically "I was, now I'm answering obvious questions." When a pretty model asks the same question, Dennis cordially responds "Why, yes I am."
A guest of The Golden Girls tells the girls his wife has just had triplets. "What are they?" asks Dorothy. Rose answers, "That's when three babies are born at the same time."
LOST provided a perfect example during the flight to return to the island:
Jack: How can you read? [at a time like this]
Ben: My mother taught me.
He's lying as usual. His mother died shortly after giving birth to him.
Another one from when Richard Alpert gives the Time Jumping Locke a compass.
Scooter: Christopher Reeve, fifteen seconds to curtain, Christopher!
Christopher Reeve: Oh thanks a lot, Scooter. Hey listen, can you tell me what these rats are doing in my dressing room?
Scooter: I think it's the Foxtrot.
In another Muppet Show example, there's Kermit's contribution to a string of "fly in the soup" jokes.
"So I ask the waiter, 'What's this fly doing in my alphabet soup?', and the waiter answers, 'Standing in for an apostrophe'."
On The Newlywed Game
Bob Eubanks asked "If you don't win the game today, what would be the reason?" The husband answered "Because we didn't answer the questions right." (The answer on his wife's card read "(Because she) Laughs too much")
Rick: Alright, what's the stair carpet doing on the fire?
Vyvyan: Burning! What's it look like?!
Neil: (answering the phone): Someone's asking if we know the name of a short fat comedian.
Neil: (into the phone): Yes we do! (puts the phone down).
Vyvyan: 11:05 and it's still raining. I wonder how hard it is.
Rick: Not very hard, seeing as it's only made of water.
Mike walks in holding a fish. He asks "What is this!?" Everyone else replies, "A FISH!" He realizes they are right and leaves. Later in the episode he comes back with the fish, having figured out what he meant to ask. He asks, "What is this fish doing in my bed!?" Someone points out to him it is not in his bed, he is holding it in his hands. He realizes they are right and leaves. Still later, he comes back, sure he has figured it out for good, with NOTHING in his hands. He says, "What is this fish doing in my bed!?" Everyone says, "WHAT FISH?"
Girl: Oh, is that the time?
Mike: No, that's a wristwatch. Time is abstract concept.
Another example: In 2003, when Prince Charles was alleged to have had a gay experience, Britain's strict libel and slander laws prevented anyone from commenting publicly on the charge. Colbert, doing a report on the scandal, was asked by Jon Stewart if he had learned any specifics. Colbert said, "Yes I have, Jon."
In Smallville, when Clark wants to talk to Lois about their relationship:
Clark: Lois, what are we doing?
Lois: I'm eating a maple donut and and you're kind of invading my personal space.
Roman: I don't know... a squid? There are other options...
Roman is supposed to be DJ and is not at his post.
In Get Smart, One of Maxwell Smart's many catchphrases is a mathematician's answer. When asked how he did something, or how he planned to do something, he would respond: "With great difficulty."
Cheers: Cliff Claven attempted to use such an answer on Jeopardy! when asked to identify three actors by their original, non-stage names. His reply was "Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?" Correct, but ...
Another from Cheers:
Frasier: O death in life, the days that are no more — who said that?
Woody: Who said what?
Frasier: "O death in life, the days that are no more."
Woody: You did.
Frasier: No, I mean, who said it first?
Woody: You said it both times.
Another ''Cheers' example had Cliff give a long and detailed explanation about why they drank ice cold beer in the middle of winter (which essentially centred around the need to equalise your internal and external temperatures). When he had finished, carla then asked him why they also drank it summer. His response was "What else are we going to do with it?".
In episode six of the first season of Boardwalk Empire, Margaret tells a friend in the Temperance League that a man has made her an offer. The friend asks, "Financial? Domestic? Sexual?", and Margaret replies, "Yes."
An Running Gag in Police Squad!, where Frank holds a cigarette out to a witness or suspect and asks "cigarette?" The implication is that he's asking if they want one, but they always answer "Yes, I know," or "Yes, it is."
Another example, which appeared both on the show and in one of the movies. When squad raids a criminal hideout, a pretty gun moll asks "Is this some kind of bust?". While looking at her chest, Drebin replies "Yes, it is very impressive".
Mock the Week has a Jeopardy! parody called If This is the Answer, What is the Question?, which naturally wound up like the Jeopardy example above on occasion.
Masters: House, how many prostitutes have you had?
House: As in eaten? Ever? This year?
Masters: Slept with. Since you've been here.
House: All but one. She did my taxes.
In the X-Files episode "One Breath", Melissa Scully comes to visit Mulder at his apartment, where he is sitting in the dark hoping to surprise an intruder.
Melissa: Why is it so dark in here?
Mulder: Because the lights aren't on.
The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nóg: In a Courtroom Episode, Angus was facing trial and, when it seemed he'd be convicted, the truth was revealed. In the end, Angus asked the judge if he'd be acquitted or convicted without the new evidence and the judge said he'd certainly be one of those.
Super Human Samurai Syber Squad: In one episode, the heroes were playing with a game that told people's luck with basis on their dates of birth. Mrs. Starkey decided to try and asked Amp when he was born. Despite knowing about the game, he told the hour. When she explained she wanted to know the day, he said he was born in Wednesday.
In Rik Mayall's Believe Nothing (made when David Blunkett was Britain's Home Secretary):
Receptionist: The Home Secretary is in the waiting room. He wants to know if he can see you.
Adonis Cnut: Of course he can't see me. He's blind.
While the above fictional Jeopardy! examples are based on the contestant's responses, the clues themselves can seem like this if you go along with the conceit that they're the answers to the questions that the correct responses ask. Who, when asked "what are chairs?" would answer "George Hepplewhite was known for designing the backs of these in such shapes as hearts & shields"?!
Famously on the Only Fools and Horses episode If They Could See Us Now, in which Del boy is on a quiz show hosted by Jonathan Ross:
Jonathan Ross: In what state was President Kennedy in when he was shot?
Del Boy: Well he was in a terrible state, he died!
The Big Bang Theory had an instance when Raj (who usually has trouble talking to women) was getting a little too attached to Siri, to the point that his friends described it as "dating a phone". When Bernadette asked if it was cute or creepy, Howard simply said "uh-huh".
In the episode "The Engagement Reaction"
Leonard: So, how is she?
Howard: They’re running tests. I don’t know. It may have been a heart attack or heart-attack-like event.
Penny: What’s the difference?
Sheldon: A heart-attack-like event is an event that’s like a heart attack.
"They ask, 'How in the world he does all these things,'/ and he answers, 'Superbly'"
Bloom County has one in its first series about the Presidential election. Trying to find a local candidate, Milo asks the bum Limekiller "How do you stand on nuclear waste?" Limekiller immediately begins balancing awkwardly on one foot, earning Milo's approval.
Miss Wormwood: ...I don't suppose I can argue with THAT.
Similar to the Eddie Izzard example: in a 1960s Peanuts strip, Charlie Brown is trying to teach Sally to count. When shown a picture and asked "How many boats do you see?" she answers "All of them!"
In another Peanuts strip, Shroeder is injured by a foul ball while playing baseball. When Charlie Brown asks him if he can still play, Shroeder runs home and pounds out a Beethoven sonata on his toy piano while still wearing his catcher's mask!
Major General: May I ask – this is a picturesque uniform, but I’m not familiar with it. What are you?
Pirate King: We are all... single gentlemen.
In Iolanthe, when Strephon is required to prove that the title character is really his mother, he points out she gave birth to him and raised him from childhood, and therefore she must be his mother.
In Twelfth Night, when Malvolio tells Olivia that a man wants to see her and will not be turned away:
Olivia: What kind of man is he? Malvolio: Why, of mankind. Olivia: What manner of man? Malvolio: Of very ill-manner.
Also, when Viola meets Feste:
Viola: Save thee, friend, and thy music: dost thou live by thy tabour? Feste: No, sir, I live by the church. Viola: Art thou a churchman? Feste: No such matter, sir: I do live by the church; for I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the church.
Warden: What were you doing in that cage? Sten: Sitting.
In Dragon Age II, a sidequest has Hawke go fetch some pickaxes for a group of miners from a smith in town whose name they forgot.
Hawke: Are you the smith? Smith: I'm a Smith. Hawke: Is "Smith" your name or your profession? Smith: Yep.
Done beautifully in Arcanum: Of Steamwork and Magick Obscura when you try to get the location of the Hidden Elf Village Quintarra from Myrth the Elf. He repeatedly answers "In the Glimmering Forest" (said forest covers a third of Arcanum) and "In the trees" while being delighted at your frustration. When you give up, you turn it back on him:
Myrth: "Why do you want to know, if you don't mind me asking?"
You: "No, I don't mind at all that you're asking."
Myrth: Aren't you going to answer?
Myrth: Out with it, man/woman!
You: I said I didn't mind you asking, not that I'd answer.
The third generation Pokemon games will let you answer yes or no...to the question of where your character came from. If you answer "yes," he'll reply that he's never heard of Yes Town. If you say no, he'll say that you have to have come from somewhere.
Same deal in EarthBound. Someone asks you to name a Beatles song - XXXterday. If you say Yes, that is technically correct. If you say No, the asker answers that Noterday is just wrong.
In Borderlands 2: Mister Torgue's Campaign of Carnage, Mister Torgue explains that the reason he's always disorganized and was unable to find a sponsor for the Vault Hunter was because he was "busy suplexing a shark wearing a bolo tie". He then notices that "You may ask, who was wearing the bolo tie, you or the shark?". Answer: YES.
There's also a question asked on his Reddit: "WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE TYPE OF EXPLOSION?" Answer: YES.
The game Star Control 2 has a race with a game called Frungy. One of the creators was asked how Frungy is played. "With gusto!"
This is generally the sort of answer given when a question is asked about V's gender.
When asked where Girard's Gate (the Artifact sealing Girard's Rift) is, a deliberately unhelpful (but compelled to tell the truth) mummy, does this. It first answers "in the Desert", then, when asked for ulterior clarification, it says "around Girard's Rift" (which the protagonists and readers know already, since it's sealing it), and finally, when asked where Girard's Rift is, it goes: "Between Girard's Buttcheeks."
Fan: What did the Court do with Sivo's body? ... Was Sivo laid to rest somewhere near the Court, or were his remains sent to an Orjak burial ground in the Bovec Mountains or elsewhere? Tom Siddell: Eglamore dealt with the matter in the way agreed on between he and his friend. ... Fan: I like how most characters have slightly different skin colors. But because they do, I'm not sure what to make of Zimmy's ashen color. Do you consider it to be in the expected range of variation for Gunnerkrigg characters (it does seem like the Headmaster's is quite similar), or is it intended to suggest something like unhealthiness or unnaturalness or even just griminess? Tom Siddell: Yup.
"Davan, I'm going to force self-worth into you if I have to do it with a suppository." "Be gentle, it'll be my first time." "First time to be rectally violated or first time to feel good about yourself?" "Yes."
Spoony: Quite a long way from the traditional kimono she wore before, and her previous characterization as a kind, demure, religious care-giver with a tragic fate. But is this huge change in outfit and characterization because of the radical cultural shift in Spira because of the exposure of Yevon as a maniacal, genocidal cult run by the undead bent on world domination... or just because japanese perverts want to see some cleavage and her cute ass in boy's shorts? Good question... The answer is "Yes".
Butarega: King Vegeta, I have urgent news! King Vegeta: Speak, Butarega. Butarega: Bardock has gone absolutely mad, Sire! Bardock: FREEZA!! King Vegeta: What's all the commotion about? Butarega: He's been telling everyone that Freeza plans to destroy Vegeta! King Vegeta: Wait, my son, the planet, or me? Butarega: ...Yes. (Butarega is blasted by King Vegeta) King Vegeta:Freakin' smartass.
The titular ninja of Ask a Ninja loves to do this, especially during the "Omnibus" episodes.
Question: What is integral theory?
Question: Of all the ninja skills in the world, which is the deadliest?
Family Guy has a very funny example by the mayor of Quahog Adam West:
Adam West: Will you answer one question for me?.
Adam West: Thank you so much.
West himself loves doing this:
Tricia Takanawa: Mr. West, do you have any words for our viewers?
Adam West: Box, toaster, aluminum, maple syrup... no I take that one back. I'm gonna hold onto that one.
He has it done to him in "Petoria'':
(Peter is dancing in the park and generally causing a commotion.) Adam West: What in God's name is he doing?! Cleveland: I believe it's called the Worm.
In one episode of The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, Charlie Brown regains consciousness on a sidewalk as two little kids watch. Charlie gets up and asks one of the kids, "Where am I?" One of the kids points to him and says, "Right there!"
Avatar The Last Airbender: In the series finale, a conflicted Aang calls upon the spirit of his past incarnation, Avatar Roku, to advise him on whether he should kill Ozai. Roku's only advice is to "be decisive".
All of the Avatar spirits actually gave a Mathematician's Answer of one sort or another. Kyoshi said "only justice will bring peace", Kurik said to "actively shape the fate of the world", and Yangchen said "do whatever it takes to protect the world". All of these apply equally accurately to either killing Ozai or any number of other options that might have been attempted. In the end, a Lion Turtle taught him Energybending, which Aang used to strip Ozai of his Firebending and render him powerless, instead of killing him.
Rocky And Bullwinkle provides us with another example. Boris, in one of his Paper Thin Disguises, needs Bullwinkle to go to a particular location. His scheme is to have Bullwinkle win a trip in a contest. The trick, then, is to get the exceedingly dense Bullwinkle to actually give the correct answer to a question, which he finally accomplishes with this exchange.
The Simpsons provides a variation on the theme, but still very much holds the original idea. When Bart and Milhouse get their own warehouse, Milhouse is left behind as a night watchman. Bart comes back the next day to find the place destroyed.
Bart: Milhouse, how could you let this happen? You were supposed to be the night watchman!
Milhouse: I was watching. I saw the whole thing. First it started falling over, then it fell over.
Batman The Animated Series played with this one. Alfred and an old compatriot of his had been captured and injected with Truth Serum. When the serum starts to take effect, Alfred appears to be drunk off it. When the bad guy asks, "What's the second password?", he replies "The lion and the unicorn..." Turns out Alfred was faking inebriation as the password was exactly what he said.
On an episode of Garfield And Friends in a U.S. Acres segment, Wade is being his usual cowardly self, this time about seeing a doctor. Orson tries to reassure him, but Roy can't miss an opportunity to have a laugh at his expense.
Orson: Doctors are your friend Wade, they'd never hurt you, but Roy here would. Wait a minute, Roy, you're not a doctor!
Roy: Sure I am! I operated a guy just yesterday for 900 dollars.
Fred the squirrel from The Penguins Of Madagascar, being Literal-Minded incarnate, has a bit of a problem with this. If he's asked if he can read something, he'll say "yes". If someone asks him to show them the town, he'll just point to the nearest buildings.
A famous one by mountaineer George Mallory: when asked, "Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?", he retorted, "Because it's there". It's since been called, "the most famous three words in mountaineering".
Not sure this is the best example because it actually does tell you everything you need to know about Mallory's motivation and in a better way than one could express in even 1000 words.
At the time, Wolverine's real name had yet to be revealed. He sometimes went by "Logan L. Logan". Guess what the "L." stands for.
A kōan of Zen Buddhism reads: A monk asked Zhàozhōu, "Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?" Zhàozhōu said, "Wú." This is a rare example in which the mathematician's answer is actually the most useful one. Wú essentially means "null",note or in trope-speak, a Flat "What." the point being that the monk asking the question is wrong to assume that the two dichotomous categories have any meaning.
The proper way to choose a cantaloupe has been described as: smell it, and if it smells like a cantaloupe, it is ripe enough. But it is a cantaloupe, so by definition, whatever it smells like, is what a cantaloupe smells like. Therefore, the only logical answer to "Does it smell like a cantaloupe?" is "Yes".
The provided description actually implies that an unripe cantaloupe does not smell anything at all.
Which is why outside of the U.S. they are known as a musk mellon. A proper cantaloupe as recognized by the rest of the world can't even be found in the U.S.
Robin Williams in his stand-up act when talking about calling tech support. When finally reaching a real person (who is Indian), this exchange takes place:
Caller: (overjoyed) Where are you!?
Tech support assistant: (heavy Indian accent) I am on the phone with you.
Back in about 2003, when Mark & Lard were still doing an afternoon show on BBC Radio 1, they used to run a phone-in quiz vaguely about music. Once, one of the questions was, "Can you name a member of Boyzone?" One of the callers jumped in with, "No." Technically, it was a correct answer...
If you got here from Internet Backdraft, you're probably wondering why "the cake is a lie, but pi is always true". The point of the joke is that in many settings, especially computer programming, "false" is represented by the value 0 and "true" by any other value. Pi isn't zero, so it's true. A related joke quoted on Bash.org:
(morganj): 0 is false and 1 is true, correct?
(alec_eso): 1, morganj
Dara Ó Briain did a bit about this in one of his stand-up shows, when the audience response to the question "Do you know what Moore's Law is?" was 'yes'.
There is a story about actress Mae West, who was famous for playing The Vamp.
Interviewer: Do you like your men short, tall, fat, or thin?
Then there's the old retort to "Can I ask you a question?" "You just did."
If someone is fond of being a smartass with this one, try asking them "May I ask you another question after this one?"
During the trial arc of Schlock Mercenary, the company lawyer manages, through convoluted wordplay, to ask if he can ask a question without, in fact, asking a question. Petey, duly impressed with this feat, allows it.
Not so much an example but a possibly interesting piece of related trivia: The "-A or B?; -Yes" joke works in most languages because it's rather typical that only one word is used for both meanings of "or". It doesn't work in languages where there are separate words for them, for example Finnish ("tai" / "vai". The former means "or" as in "is it either A or B?" and the latter as in "which one is it: A or B?")
In fact, Finnish also has a third word for "or": "eli" meaning specifically "also known as" or "in other words". One wonders if the early Finns just really hated the "or" jokes.
It's also difficult in Chinese, but for a completely different reason: Chinese does not have all-purpose words for "yes" and "no," instead attaching positive or negative modifiers to the verb in question. If someone asks you even a single-mode question, like "Have you eaten" ("chī fàn le?"), you have to say, "bù chī" (have not eaten) or "chī le" (already ate). ...Okay, people will still throw around "bù" without an attached verb, same as how English speakers will say "Went to the store" with only an implied subject, but it's still a bit harder to be ambiguous.
Actually, the (typical) negative response to the question "Have you eaten" ("chī fàn le méi?") would be something like "hái méi chī" (haven't eaten yet). Replying "bù chī" means "I don't eat", which would only be a valid response if the person replying indeed doesn't eat at all.
This also applies to Irish. Continuing the example, one would answer the question "Ar ith tú?" (did you eat?) with "D'ith mé" (I ate) or "Níor ith mé" (I did not eat). Though, for practical purposes, the positive and negative modifiers in the continuous present tense of the verb to be ("bí") often serve the role of yes and no ("tá" or "sea" and "níl" or "ní hea" respectively). *
Pronounced, "taw" (rhymes with how an American says "law"), "sha" (rhymes with "cat"), "kneel", "knee ha" (rhymes with "cat")
Indonesian language however, makes the standard mathematician's answer to the above question a valid answer: If asked between A or B, saying yes implies agreeing to the latter bit, since it is said last. Most people will attempt to reconfirm afterwards, but those particularly mean-spirited/in the mood for pranks wouldn't, and they will stick to their guns when asked about it.
This is the reason some computer languages have the XOR keyword. "OR" evaluates to "true" if at least one of a set of options is true; "XOR" requires that exactly one be true.
In formal logic this is generally referred to as having an or(exclusive) and or(inclusive) operator. Most forms of symbolic logic shorthand have both, written longhand the former is usually constructed as "either... or..." and the latter as "... and/or ...". If the phrase is just written "or" the assumption is usually inclusive, though in less formal English obviously it's more context-sensitive.
Interestingly enough, this can still lead to a Mathematician's Answer. Q: "Is it black XOR white?" Yes: it's either one or the other. No: it's either both or neither.
Nick Hudson, in _Modern Australian Usage_ under “or” reports:
…in the early days of flying between Melbourne and Sydney, passengers were asked “Tea or coffee?” twice. (1) The first time, the correct answer was “Yes” (which got you the cup) or “No”. (2) The second time, the answer was “Coffee” or “Tea” (which got the cup filled. (3) If you were then asked whether you wanted to visit the “flight deck or cockpit” the answer was again yes or no, because no other choice was being offered; they were simply two terms for the same part of the aircraft.
You've probably met the occasional smartass who thought they were funny by using these. "What's for lunch?" "Food."
Teachers see a lot of these, from students who can't come up with a relevant answer to a test question and opt to try for a laugh instead.
"Why you so head-up, Tom?" "Oh, I had to shoot my dog." "Oh, was he mad?" "Guess he weren't too damn pleased."
"I'm going up to Portland." "Go ahead. I won't stop you." "Where does this road go?" "Don't go nowhere, mister. Stays right here." "Can I take this road up to Portland?" "Well, sure...but they've got all the roads up to Portland that they need."
"Sorry to hear they're burying your pa." "Got to. He's dead."
According to an Urban Legend, when the notorious bank robber Wille Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied "Because that's where the money is." He denied ever saying this.
Magritte's painting The Treachery of Images, which shows a pipe with the phrase, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (this is not a pipe) under it. It isn't a pipe; it is an image of a pipe. Later in life, Magritte made it clear that this was an Mathematician's Answer:
The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture "This is a pipe," I'd have been lying!
Another old joke:
Customer: Waiter, what is this fly doing in my soup?
Waiter: I believe that's the backstroke, sir.
There's a joke with more of a logician's bent: an omniscient being comes to Earth and tells the world that it will answer one question completely truthfully before disappearing forever. The world's philosophers, logicians and thinkers get together and discuss for a while, and announce that they've come up with the perfect question. They go before the omniscient being and ask it this question: "What is the ordered pair of the best possible question we can ask you, and its answer?" It responds, "That, and this." then disappears in a puff of logic.
When asked why Mitt Romney failed to win the Presidency in 2012, Chris Christie said that the reason was simple: "He didn't get enough votes."
Client: I want to print my logo on a t-shirt Me: Will the t-shirt white or coloured? Client: Yes. Me: …is it white or coloured? Client: Oh! White! Me: Do you want the print to last long or is it just for an event? Client: OK.
Many times when a magician is asked how a trick is done, s/he will answer "Very carefully" or something similar.
Parents of small children might find the Mathematician's Answer handy when the kids ask questions about "the birds and the bees" before they are deemed ready to know (or if the parents are just too embarrassed to answer).
Child: Mommy, where did I come from?
Mom: I already told you, dear. From Kansas City.
Child: Mom, if a man and a woman want to have a baby, what do they need to do?
Mom: Well, first they need to go out and buy a crib, a high chair, maybe a rattle, etc.