Help! I'm trapped in a dumpster that's trapped in a physics problem!
It also has some daft bits in it to try and make the whole experience at least vaguely entertaining for you.
— CGP Books, Key Stage Two Science: The Important Bits
Modern academic textbooks represent a curious duality. On the one hand, people expect them to be a clear, accurate and legitimate explication of the topics contained therein. It is expected that they are written by intelligent scholars with a clear grasp of the information, and the expected seriousness of the learning environment tends to lend an air of sobriety to the proceedings.
On the other hand, many intelligent people are snarky goofs
, and one of the main target audiences for these books is the snarky goofs of tomorrow.
It is a bit of textbook prose, often appearing in the homework problems, that, while being entirely legitimate, suggests that the author doesn't mind a little breeziness in the discussion of the material, or at least recognizes the difficulty of immediate application of some of the concepts involved.
Discovering one of these is almost guaranteed hilarity, and often subject to Memetic Mutation
inside the classroom.
Related to Edutainment Show
Problems will be left unanswered as an exercise for the reader.
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- One image in Cultural Anthropology: An Applied Perspective has the caption of: "Here is an American nuclear family comprised of mother, father, and two children. Please note that the large yellow kid with the poor complexion is not a member of this nuclear family."
- Larsen's Essentials of Physical Anthropology has a section heading called "Add Hominin?"
- Linking to the Past: A Brief Introduction to Archeology is MADE of this. Highlights include "We will assume there were no mutant deer with additional shoulder bones." and the story about "giant burrowing bees".
- Biology 9th Edition by Sylvia Mader has the following example to demonstrate fibrous proteins: "Fibrous proteins are structural proteins. Figure a. (a picture of Drew Barrymore) Keratin... is a hydrogen-bonded triple helix. In this photo, Drew Barrymore has straight hair. Figure b. (another picture of Drew Barrymore) In order to give her curly hair, water was used to disrupt the hydrogen bonds, and when the hair dried, new hydrogen bonding allowed it to take on the shape of a curler. A permanent-wave lotion induces new covalent bonds within the helix."
- There is a website for Biology Eighth Edition by Campbell and Reece. One of the practice test questions is about werewolves.
- Campbell and Reece's Biology Seventh Edition features an image of the textbook itself with the label "heavy object" in a depiction of the Southern blot procedure. It also notes that it is possible to hear the heartbeat by listening at the chest of a friend, specifying "a close friend."
- A Swedish textbook called "Physiology with Relevant Anatomy" had the following to say about the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems: "Nervousness means increased activity in both the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic activity causes the diarrhea many students have right before the exam on physiology."
- The 2010 - 2011 Edition of Kaplan SAT Subject Test: Biology E/M provides this iota of humor in a practice test question:
Gypsy moths were brought to the United States about 150 years ago, in a misguided attempt to produce silk more cheaply. A few gypsy moth caterpillars were accidentally released in Massachusetts, and within 20 years they had infested local woodlands. Their descendants have since munched their way through forests across most of the country.
- The assessment at the end of a botany chapter in Biology tests students' understanding of plant tissues with this scenario: Your neighbor has planted a number of trees on your side of the property line. Which part of the trees' stems should you train your pet porcupines to attack in order to ensure the complete and rapid destruction of the offending plants?
- The German medical dictionary Pschyrembel includes an article on the stone louse, a fictional mite from a comedy TV show by Loriot that consumes up to 28 kg of rock per day.
- "Resonance contributors, like unicorns and dragons, are imaginary, not real. Only the resonance hybrid, like the rhinoceros, is real." (p. 292, Organic Chemistry Fifth Edition, Paula Yurkanis Bruce).
- John W. Lehman's Multiscale Operational Organic Chemistry has a made-up situation for each lab exercise. Most of them are pretty normal, but a few have references to things like Miskatonic University and flooded cemeteries contaminating the water supply, and one of them goes something like: "A despot king is designing a new flag for his country. He has assigned you the task of creating an orange dye based on a red dye created by the last scientist he employed. If you fail, you will be beheaded."
- The same also mentions the imaginary hydrocarbons "entane" and "orctane" in the section on simple distillation. "Presumably entane and orctane exist only in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth, where they are used for fuel by ents and orcs respectively." (Best of all: the ents and orcs did have distinctive drinks that no one else knew how to make!)
- Introductory chemistry textbooks will occasionally contain a sample dilution problem along the lines of "50 mL of 40% ethanol (by volume) is mixed with 0.25 kg of a 75% water (by weight), 25% particulate solution. Calculate the mass fraction of the ethanol." Which will be instinctively familiar to college students, as famous 40% ethanol solutions include most forms of liquor and most sugared soft drinks are about 2/3 water and 1/3 sugar and flavouring agents—so this problem is basically asking you, "How strong is that mixed drink you're making this evening?"note
- One organic chemistry textbook illustrated the difference between conformations and configurations with this◊.
- Andrew Tanenbaum's "Computer Network Fundamentals": "Because there is only one way to reduce 'HELLO' to four letters without summoning the wrath of Christian activists, all SMTP conversations begin with 'HELO'".
- A small one that can be found in most computer science textbooks is fairly simple. Going to the index usually reveals entries similar to the following:
Infinite Loop: see Loop, Infinite
Loop, Infinite: see Infinite Loop
- The first edition of Donald Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming blithely inserts Fermat's Last Theorem into the book's introduction as an example of a question with a difficulty of "M50" (50 being the maximum, with the M standing for "special mathematical knowledge required"). After Wiles published his proof, Knuth promptly changed it to "M45" in the second edition.
- Networks and Systems is one of the most dreaded subjects for aspiring electrical engineering students in the Budapest University of Technology and Economics taught by people known for not taking prisoners. Deeper understanding of the theory is aided by a textbook containing exactly six hundred and sixty-six exercises.
- Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach by Sturart Russell and Peter Norvig has quite a sense of humor at times. For example:
- Page 39 (in the third edition) talks about AI agent learning, using examples of dung beetle and sphex wasp behavior as analogies. In the back of the book, this is referenced in the index with an entry which reads "stupid pet tricks, 39".
- To illustrate the difference between rationality and perfection, the book uses a hypothetical scenario in which the author tries to cross the street, but a door falls off an airplane above and lands on him in the middle of the street. This contains a footnote referencing a news article about doors falling out of Boeing 747's. Additionally, the book proceeds to sarcastically suggest developing crystal balls or time machines to achieve perfection.
- In the section on neural networks, most of a page is devoted to deriving the back-propagation equations "in gory detail", basically an airtight proof of two "rules obtained earlier from intuitive considerations." Immediately following the end of the derivation, the next paragraph starts with "Having made it through (or skipped over) all the mathematics..."
- Common Lisp: The Language by Guy L. Steele, Jr. contains several humorous examples:
- A hash table containing members of both The Turtles and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Part of the latter's Theme Tune is rephrased in terms of conditional clauses in a looping construct.
- A comparison routine which performs type-checking on arguments named "apples" and "oranges".
- A variable named "maxwell" initialized to 86 and, though locally declared to be an integer, surreptitiously allowed to assume the value .007 for the duration spent viewing the movie The Sound of Music.
- An elaborate Stealth Pun on the round "Row, row, row your boat," using functions named 'gently', 'row', 'life' and 'dream' (not defined) and a predefined I/O stream to illustrate an important restriction on non-local exits: "once you have begun to catch a crab, you cannot rely on being able to catch your breath."
- Sequence searching routines used to test palindromes, including a much longer version of "A man, a plan, a canal—Panama!"
- "Because a constructor of this type operates By Order of Arguments, it is sometimes known as a BOA constructor." Unfortunately, when the standard was revised to allow constructor functions to have keyword arguments which could occur in any order, "BOA constructor" became an Artifact Title.
- The entire contents of the book are cited in the index as "kludges".
- Most textbooks for the Python programming language, as well as the online Python documentation, make numerous references to its namesake:
- A group of MIT researchers published a paper on how to fix the problem of speech recognition software producing nonsensical Mondegreens, using "common sense" word associations. They titled the paper "How to Wreck a Nice Beach You Sing Calm Incense" (translation: How to Recognize Speech Using Common Sense).
- Paul Krugman, known at least as much for his acerbic and usually hilarious political opinion columns (in The New York Times) as for the economics work that won him a Nobel Prize, is noted for this kind of thing.
- Paul Krugman's and Robin Wells's Microeconomics has some great examples:
- The explanation of the production possibility frontier uses two people named Tom and Hank on an isolated island as an example.
- From a problem also involving the production possibility frontier: "In the ancient country of Roma, only two goods, spaghetti and meatballs, are produced. There are two tribes in Roma, the Tivoli and the Frivoli."
- From a discussion of consumer budget constraints: "Consider Sammy, whose appetite is exclusively for clams and potatoes (there's no accounting for tastes)."
- Krugman's International Economics with Maurice Obstfeld included a box about a dispute about banana quotas in the European Union titled "Do trade preferences have appeal?" and containing the sentence "At the time of writing, efforts to negotiate a resolution to Europe's banana split had proved fruitless." Sadly, the dispute has been resolved and the text will have to be deleted. Krugman later told an interviewer that this line was the favorite thing he had ever written.
- Krugman also has an academic paper called "The Theory of Interstellar Trade", exploring the implications of special relativity for trade between different planets. In addition to the generally ridiculous premise, it includes quite a few deadpan one-liners like: "These complications make the theory of interstellar trade appear at first quite alien to our usual trade models; presumably it seems equally human to alien trade theorists."
- Even economics' dull younger sibling accounting does this occasionally. One accountancy textbook used for TAFE courses in Australia contains a chapter in which nearly all the examples are Star Trek references.
- Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok's Principles of Macroeconomics: one of the online versions quizes has a series of questions beggining with Jules wants to purchase a royale with cheese (a type of sandwich), from Vincent.
- This website, which explains English grammar, has a few rather strange example sentences. From the article on modifiers:
Poor Stephen, who just wanted a quick meal to get through his three-hour biology lab, quickly dropped his fork on the cafeteria tray, gagging with disgust as a tarantula wiggled out of his cheese omelet, a sight requiring a year of therapy before Stephen could eat eggs again.
- Older Than Radio: Dr Johnson inserted some "easter eggs" into his Dictionary. Part of The Other Wiki article details some of this concealed wit.
- A world history textbook had the line, "But the French had one resource that the rest of the world did not: The Beaver." There is simply no way that was unintentional.
- P. J. Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire is a scholarly account of the late Roman Empire and surrounding regions, with a tendency to title its sections things like "Rome is where the heart is" and "Thrace: The Final Frontier".
- American History: A Survey by Alan Brinkley has only one author, and so he is completely free to work in the occasional verbally ironic phrase. Example (pg. 203):
Hamilton accused Burr of plotting treason and made numerous private remarks, widely reported in the press, about Burr's "despicable" character.
- Furthermore, the only possible reason for including the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union in a list of Depression-era labor unions that could have included dozens of other ones is a desire to induce tittering in high school and college history courses. This is backed up by the fact that Brinkley has apparently received large numbers of letters regarding the issue over the years and never once changed the reference despite many opportunities to do so (a new edition comes out every 4 years or so).
- A textbook used in Advanced Placement US history classes, The American Pageant, has a fair dose of this. To paraphrase: "The initial attempts at colonization of the Americas failed miserably, causing suffering for all except the buzzards."
- The same book uses countless amounts of strange, elaborate metaphors in order to explain simple things:
"Seemingly the farmer had only to tickle the soil with a hoe, and it would laugh with a harvest."
"Yet delay seemed dangerous, for the claws of the British lion might snatch the ripening California fruit from the talons of the American eagle."
"Americans did not feel that they could offend their great and good friend, the tsar, by hurling his walrus-covered icebergs back into his face."
"Kaiser Wilhelm, with his villainously upturned mustache..."
- One AP US History textbook, Out of Many is absolutely hilarious, and includes little things like, "Ludicrous in life, possibly insane, John Brown...," a detailed explanation of family planning in the late 1800's using "coitus interruptus", "mechanical methods such as the condom", and "apparently voters didn't care about Bill Clinton's sex life".
- Unfortunately, the idea that John Brown was insane is quite common, even in textbooks.
- A textbook used for sixth formers in the UK took great pleasure in explaining just why so many aristocratic Russian women fell for Rasputin. "This is known as 'liking a bit of rough'."
- Government in America by Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry says that old people watch more news on the television and therefore "if you have ever turned on the TV news and wondered why all the commercials seem to be for Geritol, laxatives, or denture cream, now you know why."
- The American Nation by John A. Garraty provides a paragraph of exposition on how Nicholas Trist and Winfield Scott were initially hostile, and only became friends after one gave the other a jar of guava marmalade.
- For the TAPPS 2011 social studies competition, the script of Apollo 13 is included as supplementary material, with footnotes noting differences between the script and real life. One footnote says: [Here is how the movie departs from the actual mission: Jim Lovell's Corvette was actually blue.] It seems odd including Lovell's Corvette as an actual part of the mission.
- The Making of England by C. Warren Hollister mentions that the author's cat is named after "the fervent, uncompromising St. Wilfrid of Ripon," but has a much more pleasant disposition than the saint. Later Hollister notes, "Historians have always found it tempting to describe instances of larcenous bishops, gluttonous priests, and licentious nuns. I have no intention of resisting that temptation."
- American Government by James Q. Wilson and John J. DiIulio, Jr. (used in American AP Government/Politics classes) has a surprising number of subtle examples.
- "The governor of Massachusetts asked the Continental Congress to send troops to suppress the rebellion, but it could not raise the money or the manpower. Then he turned to his own state militia, only to discover that he did not have one."
- Also when referring to the Thomas Jefferson quote "A little rebellion is a good thing, for the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants", the text reads: "Clinton shared Jefferson's views. Whether Clinton would have agreed about the virtues of spilled blood, especially his, is another matter entirely."
- "The talkative and party-loving (81 year old) Benjamin Franklin..."
- A question in a review book for the AP World History exam a few years back asked "Why were the launch of Sputnik and the flight of Yuri Gagarin seen as so threatening by the west?" with one possible wrong answer being "Both Sputnik and Gagarin's spaceship carried advanced laser weaponry."
- An AP European History textbook includes gems such as a mention of the French Army having "adventures in Mexico," and of Hitler "dancing with glee."
- Another such exam guide, (Princeton, 2009 ed.) had this Take That to just about every AP Euro student ever:
Back in 1505, [Martin Luther] was caught in a thunderstorm and a bolt of lightning struck near him. He cried out, "St. Anne help me; I will become a monk." Unlike many of you who will make many promises to God for help on your AP Exam, Luther kept his promise and joined the Augustinian order.
- The Cambridge Latin Course is full of innuendos. Cambridge Latin students will single each other out by yelling, "Grumio ancillam delectat!" ("Grumio pleases the slave-girl.") Then there are places just asking for high school Latin students to yell "Oh, Is That What They're Calling It Now?!" ("And then he had a three hour conversation with Agricola...")
- Not to mention the story of Amicus, the friend of the main family who spends his time staring at statues of nude young men with his hand in his toga and putting his arm around Quintus, a teenager, who looks vaguely uncomfortable at this turn of events.
- There are also some stories that are just funny, like the one where Clemens sets a sacred cat on some mobsters who are trying to run him out of business (and the guy runs a pottery store), or the one where Quintus saves Clemens and Grumio from a mad dog by running up and punching it in the face.
- The Deluxe Transitive Vampire is a grammar book built entirely around this.
- The entire point of Moetan. Maybe. Depending on your sense of humor.
- Linguistics textbooks sometimes contain very odd example sentences. One technical book on semantics was nearly withdrawn from publication because it contained sentences like "They're going to kill a hippie for Reagan", others insulting Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon, and still others full of Black Comedy about topics like seduction, slave trade, and STD's (which were considered potentially libelous because they included the first names of then-current political figures).
- Some linguistics books are also laden with Newspaper Comics tangentially related to the principles discussed.
- The textbook Language Files repeatedly uses the sentence "There is a platypus in the bathtub".
- Then there's this textbook using examples of "infixes" (actually tmesis, strictly speaking) in English such as "absofuckinglutely".
- Still more here, plus a link to this very page!
- "George loves Laura more than Dick."
- William Lycan's Philosophy of Language contains several examples:
- One example sentence (intended to demonstrate our instant comprehension of novel sentences): Not many people know that in 1931, Adolf Hitler made a visit to the United States, in the course of which he did some sightseeing, had a brief affair with a lady named Maxine in Keokuk, Iowa, tried peyote (which caused him to hallucinate hordes of frogs and toads wearing little boots and singing Horst Wessel Lied), infiltrated a munitions plant near Detroit, met secretly with Vice-President Curtis regarding sealskin futures, and invented the electric can opener.;
- Another example refers to a philosopher who moonlights as a writer of "cheap, disgusting pornography", including something called Sizzling Veterinarians;
- A footnote tells readers "No, sorry, you will have to get that story from Russell's biographers".
- The French textbook "Une Fois Pour Toute" (Once and for all) had a chapter devoted to forming negative sentences (never, will not, and the like). All the sentences it used for examples were really negative, such as "I'm not sorry you're sick." or "I never want to see you again."
- An Introduction to Language, 9th Edition by Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams has some rather odd sample sentences. The best is an example of sentence structure in the form of a mild (and inaccurate) Deathly Hallows spoiler: "The girl Professor Snape loved married the man of her dreams".
- Eugene Ionesco, well-known absurdist playwright, somehow got himself hired to write the dialogues for a first-year French textbook, Mise en Train. As demonstrated above, many foreign language textbook dialogues already border on Textbook Humor, albeit unintentionally. Ionesco simply turned it Up to Eleven. Having trouble remembering anything specific, but I'm pretty sure that a talking crocodile was a recurring character.
- Ionesco's distinct style of absurdism owes a great deal to the innate weirdness of learning a foreign language from textbooks. ''The Bald Soprano', his best known play, is a prime example. Its plot (I use the term lightly) revolves around the Smiths and the Martins, their maid and the local fireman (also the maid's lover) telling each other meaningless facts about their lives. The original name was even "English Without Toil." The dialogues from his French textbook were also adapted into a set of short plays.
- The college-level Spanish textbook Puntos de Partida: An Invitation to Spanish, 4th Edition by Knorre, Dorwick, Glass, and Villarreal has an interesting addition in its glossary appendix, not present anywhere else in the text: "narcosatánico/a - Satanic drug-user".
- This page from a German-English phrasebook.◊
- Tae Kim's guide to Japanese, being a slightly colloquial Internet-based text, features some pretty wacky lines, particularly in learning expressions as "should" and "must": "You must not marry a Korean!" "You have to marry a Korean!"
- Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek contains a gem of a sentence that translates to "Xerxes ordered his men to take the Greeks from behind."
- The French grammar book La Grammaire ŕ l'ouvre contains, as an exercise, a series of questions to be translated into French to practice question formation. All of them are perfectly normal, such as "What time is it?" and "Which bus goes to town?" - except for question #2, which reads, "What are you doing with those knives? Why are you looking at me like that? What did I ever do to offend you?"
- Henry Beard's Latin for All Occasions is entirely this. There's even an entire section for saying very insulting things to people, then give them a Tactful Translation that really isn't what the phrase means. Here are a few examples.
- A Latin textbook from the early 1960s contained this macaronic poem from 1914.
- The freshman Greek manual used at St. John's College includes English-language sentences like Leticia was looking for winkles on the rocks when she stubbed her toe on a whelk. On their own, they're innocuous enough, but in bulk they definitely seem like they're poking fun at St. John's' general WASPiness. Some of the Greek sentences are also comical in translation, especially when your tutor or fellow classmate proudly declares "So basically you're saying, 'I hit on a man!'"
- The first-year German textbook "Kontakte: A Communicative Approach" sometimes uses cute little illustrations to help introduce vocabulary. In one chapter, the vocabulary in question is a list of car parts. The illustration for the trunk of the car features a shady-looking guy in a trenchcoat stuffing a suspicious object into the trunk of his car. The object looks awfully like a corpse wrapped in a tarp.
- Quite a tradition in the hypothetical cases given to law students. A model case on contract law will probably involve someone contracting with Lucy Pharr. Some genuine examples from a lawblog include: can a confession of shooting the sheriff be admitted as evidence in a trial for murdering the deputy; and what crime, if any, would be committed by someone taking out a billboard with the words "You killed my father. Prepare to die."
- Real cases used in casebook examples often get into this—particularly books on torts, where the cases are often seemingly crazy to start with. One American torts book starts with not one but two cases in which a minor pulls a chair out from under someone and is found liable for battery,note and another includes one where a woman successfully sued a man for battery on account of giving her herpes (he hadn't told her he had the disease). The compilers/editors tend to note this with the dry humor characteristic of today's lawyers and judges.
- Quite possibly an unintentional example from Germany: A famous - now infamous - example for first semester law students told the tale of the Negro "Bongo Zula" [sic!], who, while visiting our country, captured, cooked and ate a little girl but cannot be found guilty because he did not know our rites and customs. Said example was available in print until as late as 1990!
- A somewhat indirect example: In common-law countries, law students tend to learn via the casebook method—i.e. rather than have a textbook go through the principles of the law, the student is presented with actual appellate judicial decisions, plus a limited amount of commentary from the author/editors. Appellate judges are generally intelligent people, and they often run into cases that are (1) indescribably boring, (2) completely ridiculous, (3) involve ludicrous asshattery, or (4) some combination of the above. Naturally, they insert dry humor into their opinions wherever possible. Certain judges are particularly noted for their dry humor; for instance, in contemporary American casebooks, Judge Richard Posner (of the Chicago-based federal Seventh Circuit, whose opinions are often included in casebooks because of his clear writing style and his association with the unique logic of the law and economics movement), Judge Alex Kozinski (of the Ninth Circuit, who famously wrote "The parties are advised to chill" in his most famous opinion), Justice Antonin Scalia (of the federal Supreme Court, whose opinions are often included in casebooks because he's a freakin' Supreme Court justice), and Justice Elena Kagan (ditto, except that she's a liberal) have earned reputations for opinions that lawyers, judges, and students love to read for the jokes (and in Scalia's case, the inimitable snark), even as they shout "no, you're wrong!" at the content.
- Lewis Carroll's Symbolic Logic demonstrates that logic is about the form and not the content of propositions by making the content as ridiculous as possible.
- For example:
No terriers wander among the signs of the zodiac;
Nothing, that does not wander among the signs of the zodiac, is a comet;
Nothing but a terrier has a curly tail.
(The conclusion to be drawn is: No comet has a curly tail.)
- There's also his logic puzzle on babies and crocodiles that has been included as an example of conditional statements in at least one Geometry textbook (complete with a page image of a baby riding a crocodile!):
All babies are illogical.
Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile.
Illogical persons are despised.
(The conclusion to be drawn is: If a person is a baby, then it cannot manage a crocodile.)
- The entirety of What the Tortoise said to Achilles. Talk about Awesomeness by Analysis.
- Sweet Reason by Jim Henle and James Garfield contains, in the first chapter, certain less-than-positive references to Detroit when teaching logical notation. "If the meeting is in Detroit, then George will be late," and "George will bring a casserole if and only if the meeting is not in Detroit."
- Modern Logic by Grame Forbes: "Since '∃' is 'E' written backward, it may be pronounced by pronouncing 'E' backward." (Presumably one also pronounces '∀' by pronouncing 'A' upside-down.)
- Michael Spivak's college Calculus textbooks have random references to a "yellow pig" in the index, and the works are dedicated to a mysterious "Y.P."
- Hungerford's textbook Algebra calls the fact that (x + y)^2 = x^2 + y^2 in a commutative ring of characteristic 2 the "Freshman's Dream Lemma".
- Edward Scheinerman, a writer of college math textbooks, has a tendency to go for the subtly Pun-Based Title. His books include Mathematics: A Discrete Introduction and Fractional Graph Theory: A Rational Approach. His discrete math textbook also has exercises in it like "Prove that if you pull a guinea pig by its tail, its eyes will fall out."note
- Fundamentals of Complex Analysis by Saff and Snider has an index entry for "puns".
- The Practice of Statistics by Dan Yates, David S. Moore and Daren S. Starnes has a problem on determining human life span off a regression curve of mass vs. other animals' life spans. The answer is 17 (humans are an exception). This being an odd numbered problem, the answer is listed in the back, where it says: "17. Oh well."
- Probability and Statistics textbooks by J. Jakubowski and R. Sztencel have little comments on the margins, including additional information, useful hints for solving presented problems, as well as semi-related movie quotes, jokes, puns and comments along the lines of "It is a good idea to try using your brain now".
- One problem in Mario F. Triola's Elementary Statistics, Tenth Edition went as follows:
"On their first date, Kelly asks Mike to guess the date of her birth, not including the year. What is the probability that Mike will guess correctly? Would it be unusual for him to guess correctly on his first try? If Kelly subsequently asks Mike to guess her age, and Mike's guess is too high by 15 years, what is the probability that Mike and Kelly will have a second date?"
- The Functions, Statistics and Trigonometry book by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project contains a problem involving a chemist named Dr. Al Kali.
- Fourier Analysis by Thomas William Kömer quotes the "cider in your ear" speech from Guys and Dolls in a chapter about data analysis.
- Concrete Mathematics by Ronald Graham, Donald Knuth, and Oren Patashnik has marginal notes written by the students in the classes that field-tested drafts of the book. Some are helpful, but most are some flavor of smartassery.
- Principia Mathematica by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead takes several hundred pages to prove that 1+1=2; when it finally gets there, it remarks that "the above proposition is occasionally useful".
- Key Curriculum's Discovering Geometry is made of this trope, with almost all the word problems featuring characters with punny names.
- Addison-Wesley's Beginning Algebra contains a word problem about ticket sales for a band called Prosthetic Forehead.
- There is a series of text books titled "Life of Fred" that follows the adventures of a mathematics professor. Who is four (five in some of the books). That's about the most sane thing that happens, story-wise.
- A Finnish high school math book features an exercise in which you need to calculate tangents for flowers on a circle and whatnot. The finals part of the exercise asks what the bee in the meadow thinks of all this. The answer? *yawn*!
- The textbook Stats:Data and Models has many humorous, even snarky, footnoted to accompany the text. For one particularly memorable example, the chapter about randomness stated off explaining how important randomness is in statistics, and that without randomness, the textbook would end right there. The footnote: Don't get your hopes up.
- A certain GCSE mathematics course book uses the renting of a VW Microbus as a scenario around which several problems are based (such as how much fuel would be needed if the bus could achieve a certain MPG with a certain number of average-sized people aboard, how much it would cost to fuel the bus per person over various ranges, etc). The illustration that accompanies this problem set is a group of bemused-looking people standing around a literal microbus, the size of a toy.
- A high school level Algebra book had a problem involving two children cornering 64 Komodo Dragons in the side yard of their home.
- Real Mathematical Analysis by Charles Chapman Pugh includes, after a certain proof, the amusingly opinionated line "The fact that a non-trivial space is homeomorphic to its own Cartesian square is disturbing, is it not?" (He's right, though: it is disturbing. Imagine trying to stretch a line segment into a square and you'll have some idea.)
- A German university textbook about stochastic processes uses "real life" examples along the lines "In a battle in the US Civil War, Confederate soldiers arrive according to a poisson process at a rate of m on the battlefield and will hit Union soldiers at a rate of n if present, while Union soldiers arrive at a rate of o and have a shooting accuracy of p. What are the odds of the Union winning the battle (having more soldiers on the battlefield) at dusk?" Lest we forget, the length of the river in the middle of the battlefield is distributed randomly according to a distribution G, but as the textbook states, that will not have any impact on the outcome. During the course, they are getting more and more absurd.
- A Swedish high school textbook on mathematics includes a problem where the student is to figure out for how long Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation can be inside a core reactor before the radiation is going to kill him.
- There is a British A-level Mathematics-Mechanics textbook whose name escapes me which is made up almost entirely of this. For example, one problem involves a Christian and a lion in the Colosseum being tied on ropes of 'x' length in particular positions and the problem is to work out whether there is any possible safe position; the question ends with a Don't Try This at Home disclaimer.
- At least one math textbook asks the volume of a cylinder with a height of q and a radius of sqrt(t).note
- Older Than Radio: D H Hill, later famous as a Confederate General, published in 1849 an algebra textbook containing such anti-Northern gems as
The field of battle at Buena Vista is 6˝ miles from Saltillo. Two Indiana volunteers ran away from the field of battle at the same time; one ran half a mile per hour faster than the other, and reached Saltillo 5 minutes and 54 6/11 seconds sooner than the other. Required their respective rates of travel.
A man in Cincinnati purchased 10,000 pounds of bad pork, at 1 cent per pound, and paid so much per pound to put it through a chemical process, by which it would appear sound, and then sold it at an advanced price, clearing $450 by the fraud. The price at which he sold the pork per pound, multiplied by the cost per pound of the chemical process, was 3 cents. Required the price at which he sold it, and the cost of the chemical process.
- Scientists will occasionally insert some snark into their research papers, as seen in the paper which introduced Graham's Number, "the largest number ever used in a serious mathematical proof" (at the time), a number so unbelievably gigantic they had to invent a new form of notation just to write it down. Graham's Number is the original upper bound on the number of solutions to the problem. The lower bound? Six. The paper commented: "Clearly, there is some room for improvement here."
- There was at least one GCSE maths book in the '90s that featured a cameo by Del Boy and Rodney.
- The reference book for the music typesetting software Sibelius has some interesting quotes that have been preserved through several editions. For example, describing a 19th century convention in which two-note tremolos only had note lengths doubled if they lasted for a quarter note or more, it remarks, "This was bananas." This is even preserved (in English) in the Italian edition of the book! In the very next paragraph, it described another idiosyncrasy in which a two-note tremolo lasting for two 4/4 bars will be written as two whole notes instead of two breves, as one might expect. Says the author: "Most people go a lifetime without noticing this weird exception - what sheltered lives they lead."
- The high school Fundamentals of Physics series by Karen Cummings, David Halliday and Robert Resnick features problems about a "Slide-Loving Pig" as a running gag. For instance "A slide-loving pig slides down a certain 35-degree slide in twice the time it would take to slide down a frictionless 35-degree slide. What is the coefficient of kinetic friction between the pig and the slide?" Other "Slide Loving" animals (including penguins) appear throughout various editions of the work.
- The College Physics series by Raymond A. Serway, Chris Vuille, and Jerry S. Faughn features a number of hilarious homework problems, for instance: "In a showdown on the streets of Laredo, the good guy drops a 5.0-gram silver bullet, at a temperature of 20°C, into a 100-cmł cup of water at 90°C. Simultaneously, the bad guy drops a 5.0-gram copper bullet, at the same initial temperatures, into an identical cup of water. Which one ends the showdown with the coolest cup of water in the West? Neglect any energy transfer into or away from the container."
- Optics by Hecht has, in the section on electromagnetic radiation, an infrared photo of the author, explaining that the different colors indicated different temperature. The caption reads, "Note the cool beard." There's also some a remark in the (4th) edition about finding the first edition and checking the retreat of his hair line.
- Whoever writes the New Zealand high school science material seems to be indulging in this. The physics problems are especially hilarious.
- Of note is a picture of two kids with a bong and the following problem. "Daphne and Billy are on the beach finding peace, when Timmy uncovers a cache of fireworks. The fireworks have the following yield. Daphne has a mass of x and Billy has a mass of y. If Timmy detonates the fireworks at location Z, how far do Daphne's and Billy's bloodstained cadavers fly?"
- And of course, two pages of some boys trying to catapult a bag across a river. The final question is thus: "Calamity! A duck with a mass of x, flying at speed y, collides with the bag! How far and in which direction do the splattered remains of the duck fly?"
- Special Relativity by T.M. Helliwell has a number of problems (and some cover art) featuring rhinoceroses running at relativistic speeds.
- Instant Physics: From Aristotle to Einstein and Beyond is made of this trope.
- Physics: Principles and Problems, which was written by a professor at the University of Michigan, contains the following problem in Chapter 9- "A 0.115-kg hockey puck, moving at 35.0 m/s, strikes a 0.265 octopus thrown onto the ice by a hockey fan. The puck and the octopus slide off together. Find their velocity."note
- Physics II: New Method For Learning by various authors, is chockful of hypothetical situations quite... improbable.
- A particularly memorable example: "A ninja jumps off from a window and lands over the roof of a car passing at 50 mph. If his enemy throws a rock at him, How much force (in Newtons) and speed would the rock need to hit the ninja?".
- "Mark throws a watermelon, a paper ball, a fridge and himself from a 50 ft tall cliff. Using the equivalence gravity = -9.8 meters per second2, calculate which of them will hit the floor first." There even was an illustration to show the mass of each object.
- "If you throw a baseball in an ascending, vertical line with a velocity of X, What is the maximum height it will reach, and how much time will it take for it to hit you back in the head?"
- New Century Senior Physics outlines, in its explanation of sound waves and infrasound, how cinemas place banks of subwoofers resonating at low frequencies causing the internal organs to vibrate, making explosions more realistic. It notes "While [infrasound] may be safe under controlled conditions, it can cause nausea and dizziness. Death can occur in extreme cases when internal organs rub against each other and hemorrhage. Enjoy your movie.'
- A certain advanced calculus-intensive textbook on electromagnetism which is otherwise rather dry and humorless does have one deliciously witty moment in its discussion of circuits with inductors: it explains that if the circuit is broken while strong current is still flowing through the inductor, "the resulting catastrophe may be more than mathematical"!note
- David L. Goodstein's States of Matter begins thus:
Ludwig Boltzmann, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906, by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on the work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study statistical mechanics. Perhaps it will be wise to approach the subject cautiously.
- Alabama Grade 8 Science Explorer includes a Lab Activity involving an alien Periodic Table. There are 29 elements in total, and the names range from puns to just plain nonsense. Some of the more humorous ones include: Wobble, Byyou, Chow, Quackzil, Highho, Sississ, Pfsst, Eldorado, Doggone, Goldy, Urrp, Oz, and Pie.
- A Swedish textbook explains vector properties through an example including a fisherman, his fishing rod, and a fish. The book explains that "a fish with a flair for mathematics would have a good reason to suspect that the force generated [on the fishing rod] would display vector properties". Yes, the mathematical knowledge is attributed to the fish.
- The CGP revision guide for GCSE Physics ends with a guide on making a Spot of Tea. Well, it is British...
- A high school psychology textbook includes slightly related pictures on nearly every page with funny captions. For example: (A black-and-white picture of a man with Icarus-style feathered wings on.) "This man avoided the problem of jet-lag by never getting off the ground."
- Another one shows a stock picture of a wolf-man and a woman hugging. "A date between a teen guy and a girl, as seen by the girl's father."
- At least one college psychology textbook lists the four 'F's of psychology as fight, flight, food, and procreation.
- Myers Modules, the standard first-year psychology book, is actually very fun to read, with snarky stories about Myers' family and Lampshade Hanging on various aspects of psychology (such as Subliminal Advertising).
- One psychology textbook put the concept of "psychoceramics" at the end of a long list of psychological fields of study. It was explained to be the study of crackpots. The footnote states that the writer inserted that one on April Fool's Day.
- This page from a psychology textbook◊ uses hilariously off-model Pokémon ersatzes to illustrate the effects of classical conditioning.
- A sociology textbook, discussing social mores, put in a picture of the late "Human Blockhead" Melvin Burkhart, with the caption, "One unstated rule of most societies is that you do not put things up your nose. Melvin Burkhart, pictured here, makes a living out of breaking that particular rule."
- The CGP revision guides in the United Kingdom always offer quirky cartoons in the notes and one-liner jokes in the summaries, which are often pop culture references.
- One particularly memorable example being an A-Level maths book containing a page titled "Cows". It's about cows. It has a brief list of the differences between some breeds of cow, and some cow-related puns on song titles ("Milk me baby one more time"(?!)). Then it just goes back to maths.
- Another in the series randomly replaces the revision section at the bottom of the page with advice on how to make Penguin (sorry, Pelican) biscuits better by drinking tea through them. This introduced a generation of British A-level students to the Australian Tim Tam Slam manoeuvre.
- The Academic Decathlon "resource books" are absolutely full of nerdy jokes and pop-culture references.
- The Princeton Review set of standardized test books has a light tone of explaining subjects compared to other textbooks while getting the points across.
- Russian writer Grigoriy Oster produced two books in the late nineties - "Math Problems (an illustrious textbook)" and "Physics Problems". Both featured his trademark dark humour and, while being very workable and well-designed textbooks for 7th-8th-9th grades of the Russian school system, ran with exceptionally whimsical problems, ranging from "An unholy force is trying to lift Kaschei the Immortal out of his coffin. It is exerting so-and-so Newtons. Kaschei weighs so-and-so kilograms. Should we panic now?" (the hint for the problem went "Nah, you can relax, it's too weak to wake him.") through "Captain Flint's parrot knows X cuss words. Y of them are in English, Z are in Spanish and O are in French. The rest are in Russian. How many of these are there?" all the way to "Bryaka had 12 poosiks. Half of them she ryamked, while the rest were fooched onto a dybyra. 4 poosiks have unfooched from the dybyra and ryamked..." and so on. Granted, they were originally intended to be works of humour first and textbooks second, but they are probably the most Troperrific textbooks ever known to mankind.
- The For Dummies series of study guides contain numerous topical cartoons at the start of sections or chapters. That, and a lot of humor throughout all the text...
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