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.


  1. beerman49 says

    To this curmudgeon, textbook “logic” most often is anything but logical – damn the mathematical analysis & symbolic BS! I find the cartoon amusing because the 3rd one gave the right answer (& in the real world probably would have been booted out of the club afterward!).

    Whoever drew that probably got a bad grade in/flunked logic. Full disclosure: I never took it, as I had read parts of a logic text while in HS that one of my baby-sitting clients owned – my mind went what’s now called “WTF” & I was turned off 100% to that BS..

    Jay’s right about trying to explain a joke. For a joke/captioned cartoon to work, it has to connect with the listeners’/readers’ experiences. I’ve explained jokes to “normal” folks who still had problems “getting it”. That Jay’s continually trying to do this with his son is a big feather in his cap. I know 2 autistic kids – one is the son of an LA cousin (approaching age 19 & minimally verbal, but “savant” in some ways); the other (age 12 son of a local friend) loves to talk, but has ADHD problems & “obsessive” semi-destructive tendencies.

    I’m a big humor fan (especially when it involves music), but there are times (mostly with captioned cartoons) when I don’t see the humor (which often is quite subtle). Now I’m gonna have to find “The Aristocrats” on Amazon – tx, Jay, for posting that, & best of luck in your future explanations to your son.

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