Never Drink And Derive

No that’s not a typo. Today’s Friday frivolity is a nice mix of drinking and math. Remember people, don’t try to figure out the quadratic formula while operating heavy machinery. Once you start deriving, it’s hard to stop. I assume this will resonate with the illiterate and math-challenged among the neo-prohibitionists.


Three Logicians Walk Into A Bar …

While I had a logic class in college, and dabbled in debate, I’ve probably forgotten more than I ever learned. But I still love the notion of breaking down the thought process. My son, who’s 11 and autistic, often has trouble understanding humor. As a result, I increasingly find myself trying to explain the punchline of a joke — why it’s funny — and I’ll break it down for him. What invariably happens, of course, is that in that process, the joke is stripped of its humor and is no longer funny. For some reason, that never deters me. I’ve always had a thing for jokes and thinking about why they’re funny. If I wasn’t so damn shy I would have loved to have tried my hand at stand-up comedy back when I was a younger man. I think that’s why I loved The Aristocrats so much. Ninety minutes breaking down and re-telling one joke. What’s not to love?

So check out the comic strip below. It’s mildly amusing, at least to me. You most likely won’t laugh out loud, but you may smile, at least. But from the point of view of logic, it’s also quite correct, and instructional. It was originally posted by Spiked Math Comics, who admits he doesn’t know the strip’s original creator.


But here’s where it veers headlong into geekdom. It was picked up by a Danish University linguistics student, Emil Kirkegaard, who posted Three Logicians Walk Into a Bar: A Formal Explanation, a breakdown and analysis of the joke, complete with formulas, and explanation of the logic principles behind it.

Here’s one expressing the root problem: E↔(Wa∧Wb∧Wc)

The whole explanation is just as funny as the original strip, to me at least, in its own right and certainly does explain the joke, although if you didn’t think it was funny to begin with, this probably isn’t going to help. But us geeks have to stick together, no matter what geekworld we belong to.

Ancient Egypt, Math & Beer

Thanks to Pete Slosberg — he of the formerly wicked persuasion — for passing this along. It’s not strictly about beer, so feel free to ignore it if math and history isn’t your cup of beer. Today’s New York Times Science has a fun article, Math Puzzles’ Oldest Ancestors Took Form on Egyptian Papyrus, about how the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus contains several clever math puzzles, including some thought to be more modern and also having to do with beer.


For example, some of the puzzles “involve a pefsu, a unit measuring the strength or weakness of beer or bread based on how much grain is used to make it,” such as this one:

One problem calculates whether it’s right to exchange 100 loaves of 20-pefsu bread for 10 jugs of 4-pefsu malt-date beer. After a series of steps, the papyrus proclaims, according to one translation: “Behold! The beer quantity is found to be correct.”

Fun stuff. I wonder what “pefsu” is compared to say a.b.v.?

The Math Behind Beer Goggles

This isn’t exactly news, the effect known as “beer goggles” — where after a few pints people appear more attractive — was confirmed in 2002 and the mathematical formula was announced in 2005. Whether Matt Damon wrote it out on a hallway blackboard one late night is still not known. But How Stuff Works (under the TLC Cooking imprimatur) has a nice summary of the formula.

The first study I recall seeing was in 2002, and was conducted by the University of Glasgow. Both the BBC and the Daily Collegian had the story. Then, in 2005, researchers at the University of Manchester stumbled upon the formula for how it all works. They also discovered that “alcohol is not really the only factor affecting the drunken perception of beauty. Other factors, according to their research, include:

  • How brightly lit the area is
  • The observer’s eye-sight quality
  • The amount of smoke in the air
  • The distance of the observer from the observed

The formula is laid out below.


Here’s how to decode the formula:

  • An is the number of servings of alcohol
  • d is the distance between the observer and the observed, measured in meters
  • S is the smokiness of the area on a scale of 0 – 10
  • L is the lighting level of the area, measured in candelas per square meter, in which 150 is normal room lightning
  • Vo is Snellen visual acuity, in which 6/6 is normal and 6/12 is the lower limit at which someone is able to drive

The formula works out a “beer goggle” score ranging from 1 to 100+. When ø = 1, the observer is perceiving the same degree of beauty he or she would perceive in a sober state. At 100+, everybody in the room is a perfect 10.

And one last odd finding of the second study. “A nearsighted, sober person who isn’t wearing his or her glasses can experience a beer-goggle effect equivalent to drinking eight pints of beer.”