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Applied Mathematics

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"We all use the teleporter let's say... six times a day. Times four years. Minus we're not bread."
The Medic, Team Fortress 2, "Expiration Date"

This is when a statement regarding real-world things is expressed as a mathematical equation, usually in the form of x + y = z to quickly tell you what you get when you mix x and y. Also common is writing an elaborate deduction on a blackboard or thought bubbles, but replacing a few terms, including the result, with pictures related to whatever the character is scheming.

Try not to think too hard about the implications of some of these. For example, Quantum Mariah Carey Problem is equal to this trope plus Fridge Logic.

Parallel to E = MC Hammer, when used to convey a setting or a character's skills, and may be derivative of Writers Cannot Do Math. See also Formula for the Unformulable.

Integral to Troperithmetic. Rebus Bubble is a subset of this. Not what Physics is.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Puck has a moment of this in Berserk when he sees Guts collapse. He rushes over to him as he's getting swarmed by weak ghosts, and his wild flailing drives them off. Guts < Monsters, Monsters < Puck, so Puck > Guts.

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: The Don Rosa version of Uncle Scrooge sometimes assembles these in his thought balloons.
  • Benito Jacovitti, an Italian comic artist, used to draw little comic strips of this type as a gag aside of a main story. Sometimes they were related with verbal jokes (in Italian), sometimes more logical, sometimes nonsenses as in the picture of this entry (bull + lyre = bull with musical strings in the horns). Sometimes he used operations different form the sum: for instance, \sqrt{man}= skeleton.
  • Young Avengers has Ghost Kid Loki's description of original Loki: "Sauron multiplied by that anti-Dumbledore guy cubed!"

  • In Turning Red, one of the the slides in the presentation of Mei's plan to raise money includes the equation "GOAL=$800".

  • The Alice Network: Charlie often uses mathematical metaphors, which her mother hates.
    Charlie: I really don't see that equation balancing out, Maman.
    Charlie's mother: What on earth do you mean?
    Charlie: One college sophomore minus one small encumberance, divided by six months' passage of time, multiplied by ten Paris frocks and a new haircut will not magically equal one restored reputation.
  • Discworld:
    • In the novels (but also referring to the real world, and why time can be lost in bookshops): Libraries are collections of books and books contain knowledge. Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass. "A good bookshop is a genteel black hole that knows how to read."
    • Camel mathematicians think in these terms.
      "Let legs equal four..."
    • The eighth son of an eighth son will always be a wizard. The eighth son of an eighth son of an eighth son is a wizard squared (and a Sourcerer). Even though Fridge Logic points out that if that's going to be any power of a wizard, it ought to be 3/2. Writers Cannot Do Math, or this is a bit like the old question about a double hat-trick: do 4 successive whatevers count as a double hat-trick because there's the first one made up of the first, second and third examples, and a second consisting of the second, third and fourth ones? If so, then the Sourcerer = Wizard^2 argument holds up. An 8th son is just that; it's only when he has an 8th son that said son is a wizard. So it's the extra generation and power of 8 that counts. Doing that again — that is, the wizard having an 8th son — is what makes him a Sourcerer. Put numbers to it: Original 8th son = 1 (un-magical); his 8th son = 8 (wizard); his 8th son = 64 (Sourcerer, and wizard squared).
  • In Karel Polacek's novel Inn at the Stone Table, one chapter is in part titled "knickerbockers + cameras + overcoats × wives = reunion of alumni".
  • In One Era and Out the Other by Sam Levenson features his own "theory of relativity": "E = MC: everybody is my mother's cousin twice removed".
  • In A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Who uses her skirt and an ant to illustrate her explanation of the tesseract.

    Live-Action TV 


    Video Games 
  • The first few levels of Super Paper Mario feature "joke" equations in the background, made up of random numbers and mathematical symbols combined with famous Mario icons such as the Fire Flower and mushrooms.
  • In Mickey Mania, when you fight the Mad Doctor, there is a nonsensical equation - featuring Pluto - in the background.
  • Alchemy, a series of games for mobile devices including iOS and Android phones and tablets, starts you off with the four classical elements (earth,air,fire,water) and forces you to apply this trope to find all the rest.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • The title card for The Angry Video Game Nerd video "Chronologically Confused" features the Nerd in front of a board filled with nonsensical equations and formulae, including at points a Triforce and a drawing of Mario.
    • Of particular note is ET=BS.
  • The Rocketboom series, Know Your Meme, has its own brand, called Mememath.
  • The Nostalgia Chick had the below joke about women equaling time and money therefore they're evil at the start of her "Top Eleven Villainesses."
  • Nash does this sometimes, when talking about a complete and stupid disaster. "Once again, it's time to do the math: This + this equals FUCKING THIS!"
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-1313 is a math equation whose answer is a grizzly bear. Solving the equation causes an angry grizzly bear to manifest.

    Western Animation 
  • Duck Dodgers: Daffy draws a complicated navigation chart to navigate to Planet X, and then Porky suggests they just follow the letters on the planets.
  • The Simpsons, when Homer is an inventor. During a montage, he's shown writing equations on a blackboard. After he's done, the camera moves to shot of the house ? where there's a massive explosion. Cut back to Homer: who examines his equation and crosses out the offending section, a drawing of a stick of dynamite, which he then replaces with something else. This results in another, bigger explosion.
  • South Park:
    • In the episode "Simpsons Already Did It": Cartman's explanation for how adding semen to his tank of "Sea People" (brine shrimp) caused them to develop a civilization: Sea-People + Sea-Men = Sea-Ciety.
    • Underpants Gnomes. Step 1: Collect underpants. Step 2: '''?''' Step 3: Profit!
    • Cartman's formula for gold.
  • In Pinky and the Brain, the Brain tries to mathematically deduce the reason his plans usually fail. He ends up with a portrait of Pinky. Later, Pinky is made smarter and finds several mistakes in Brain's calculations. Correcting them results in a portrait of Brain.
  • In Jackie Chan Adventures, Jade references combining the levitation talisman and the speed talisman to fly by saying 'levitation+speed=flight.'
  • In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Out to Launch," Phineas and Ferb are trying to get a rocket to launch using a scientific equation (You can see it starting at 3:18 here), and with each new attempt, Phineas modifies one of the terms. After a few false starts, Ferb points out the problem: the equation equals the square root of a bomb. Phineas changes it to a smiley face, and their next launch is successful.
    • 'Tis Tsiolkovsky's equation, the foundation of rocketry!
    • Another episode had Jeremy tell Candace he'd call her soon and Candace decided to calculate out when "soon" was.
    Candace: Wait! Maybe I should've carried the one instead of dividing by Jeremy's face.
  • The Boondocks: Nigga Moment + Nigga Synthesis = COMPLETE DISASTER
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: Operation A.R.C.H.I.V.E, which is an Affectionate Parody of The Animatrix, ends with the narrator launching into an erratic rant about fluorescent lights, schools and curfews all being a part of the adult conspiracy to subdue their creators, the children. The rant is accompanied by rapid flashes of increasingly disturbing images, one of which is a chalkboard which says "2 + 2 = Go to Bed".
  • In The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack puts a number of these "equations" on a blackboard to try and understand Christmas.
  • Tom and Jerry: In "The Unshrinkable Jerry Mouse", when Tom's owner brings a new kitten he doesn't want to share the house with, these equations appear in his mind: "house + Tom = heaven" and "house + Tom + kitten = hell".

  • There's the old joke that goes like this:
    • Getting a girlfriend is the product of time and money. Girlfriend = Time × Money
    • Time = Money, therefore Girlfriend = Money × Money = Money^2
    • Money is the root of all evil, Money = √Evil, meaning Money^2 = Evil
    • Therefore Girlfriend = Evil
  • Counter joke:
    • Boyfriend = Girlfriend × Time × Money
    • Boyfriend = Evil × Money^2
    • Boyfriend = Evil^2
      • Which would be a recursive formula, meaning boyfriends and girlfriends are infinitely evil.
  • And similarly again:
    • Time is Money, Knowledge is Power: T = $, K=P
    • Power is work per unit time: P=W/T so T =W/P
    • Therefore $=W/K, and since lim (W/K) as K increases tends to zero, the More you know the less you make regardless of how hard you work.
  • Tolkien as Mathematics
  • As Vladimir Lenin put it, communism is the Soviet power plus electrification of the whole country. Therefore, 1) Soviet power is communism without electrification, and 2) electrification is communism minus Soviet power. Important note: this joke is political, and was subject to persecution.
  • An advert about not using a cellphone while driving was portrayed as "driving person + cell phone = walking person". That this logically means "walking person - cell phone = driving person".
  • The rapper Canibus had an interesting equation on his 1000 bar opus "Poet Laureate Infinity" that goes: "If A is a success in life, then A must equal X plus Y plus Z no doubt / If work equals X and play equals Y, then Z must be equal to you shutting your mouth." In fact, this is based on something said by Albert Einstein.
  • There is a joke about 9/11 which uses this, the humor is not at anyone involved in 9/11, but through a pun and math play.
    Q: When does a pentagon only have four sides?
    A: When it is bisected by a plane.


Video Example(s):


Medic's Estimation

The Medic uses this to work out how long it will be until they die.

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Main / AppliedMathematics

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