## An Introduction to Pumpkin Chunkin'

In a recent episode of ABC's Modern Family, Cameron and Mitchell (the show's unambiguously gay duo) are with some friends talking about Thanksgiving when Cameron decides to tell a story from his youth which, in his opinion, is quite compelling. Mitchell knows better, but doesn't have the heart to tell him that this particular story suffers from some basic structural flaws. As Mitchell puts it, the story can be summarized as follows: "Once Cam and his friends tried to slingshot a pumpkin across a football field. Three seconds. That's all you need to tell that story."

Needless to say, Cameron's version of the story is much more embellished. In his rendition, their experiment was a success; as he puts it, the pumpkin flew across the field, "goal post to goal post."

When I first heard him say this, my initial thought was "Is Cameron telling the truth?" How likely is it that a pumpkin, launched from a slingshot at one end of a football field, could sail through the air to land on...

## The Calculus Diaries

As the holiday season begins, I recently felt compelled to read through a gift I received over the holidays last year, a book called The Calculus Diaries. Written by English major Jennifer Oullette, who, by her own admission, had to overcome a not uncommon fear mathematics to write it, the book attempts to do what any reasonable Calculus course ought to do, but in front of a larger audience: convince the reader of the universal applicability and beauty of the subject.

Unlike most Calculus textbooks, however, Oullette's book has an extra helping of sympathy for its audience. Oullette's goal is not necessarily to make her readers expert mathematics students; instead, she focuses on unifying seemingly disparate types of problems under the umbrella of Calculus. Included amongst these examples are applications of Calculus to the equations of motion, thermodynamics, surfing, and the spread of disease. The wheel is not being reinvented here - most of these examples (with the possible...

## 11/11/11. Great.

To the question making the news circuit today ("Does today's date have any special significance?") I believe an article at Scientific American provides the most compelling answer: no. Not only does the article brush aside suggestions that this day might have some deeper meaning, but it also spends some time discussing why such numerological curiosities capture our collective imagination to the extent that they do. If you only read one article about 11/11/11 today (or two, I suppose, since you're already reading this), let it be that one.

If you are a masochist like me, though, there are plenty of ridiculous articles floating around today to help you get your blood boiling. One of my favorites comes from today's Philadelphia Inquirer. It's full of gems like:

**One may be the loneliest number, [La Salle University math teacher Stephen] Andrilli said, but 11 ranks among the most odd - and not just because it isn't even. He sees 11 as sort of a netherworld number - one more than the...**

## Math of Macarons

A few weeks ago, I was downtown with the missus when we stumbled upon the Bottega Louie Restaurant and Gourmet Market. The window display was enticing, so we went inside and discovered, among other things, a bakery. This one's focus was the macaron, one of many sweets aiming to topple the cupcake as the trendiest dessert, and so for a town obsessed with the current trends, it is no surprise that Los Angeles is home to several similarly specialized patisseries.

Though smaller than the average cupcake, the macaron is also more labor-intensive, and is therefore frequently on the more expensive end of the confectionery spectrum. The macarons at Bottega Louie, for example, will run you $1.75 each.

One of many delightful flavors.

If you need a sweet fix, though, a single macaron may not be enough. Anticipating such a first-world problem, Bottega Louie also offers boxes of macarons for purchase. The boxes come in three sizes: the small holds five macarons, the medium holds thirteen...

## Math + Halloween, Part 4

It's that time of year again. If you are looking for some math-themed costume ideas, then look no further. Though it gets harder to keep this tradition with each passing year, here are a few ideas is you're looking to rock that mathematical look at whatever event you are planning to attend during this frightful Halloween season. Ideas from previous years can be found here, here, and here.

Without further ado, let's begin!

**1. Tony Stark**

Yes, yes, I know - since Iron Man hit the screens in the summer of 2008, the titular character has become a popular costume idea, joining the ranks of comic book icons like Superman and Spiderman. I'm not talking about dressing up as Iron Man, though. Instead, I am recommending a costume based on the man inside the suit - Tony Stark, playboy billionaire and (more importantly) mathematical wünderkind. All you really need is some delicately coiffed facial hair and a glowing circle on your chest. Aside from that, the world is really your oyster...

## A Mathematics Community

Whether knowingly or not, NBC Thursday night comedies have made occasional dalliances with mathematics. For example, you can see here for a mathematical discussion inspired by The Office, and here for one inspired by Parks and Recreation.

Today I would like to add to this esteemed list the show Community, now in its third season on NBC's Thursday block. As the title indicates, the show centers around a group of friends who are students at the fictional Greendale Community College (how this formula will pan out if the show lasts more than four seasons is uncertain).

In a recent episode (titled Competitive Ecology), the gang divides themselves up into pairs of lab partners for Biology class, but they quickly discover their pairings are less than ideal - especially since, with an odd number in the central crew, one member must pair up with someone who is not in their clique. Their first assignment is to build a terrarium, and with the deadline quickly approaching, they need to find...

## Playoff Probabilities

Continuing with last week's theme, and since we are in the midst of playoffs, I'd like to take a moment now to discuss another link between baseball and mathematics. This link is particularly timely since the scuttlebutt on the internet suggests that next year the playoff rules for baseball will be changed: the number of teams competing for the World Series will increase from 8 to 10, and because of that, another round of playoff games will be introduced.

Currently, the playoffs consist of three rounds. The first round is the Division Series, in which eight teams compete in a best-of-five match-up (equivalently, a first-to-three match-up, i.e. the first team to win three games wins the series). The second and third rounds, better known as the Championship Series and World Series, are composed of four and two teams, respectively, but are both best-of-seven (equivalently, first-to-four). Because of these three rounds of several games each, the playoff season is already quite long...

## Moneyball

This weekend, mathematics played a supporting role to Brad Pitt in one of fall's first critical darlings, Moneyball. Based on the Michael Lewis book of the same name, the film profiles the Oakland A's during their 2002 bid for World Series glory. What allegedly separates their story from the story of other teams during that season is the way General Manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, deals with the budget constraints imposed on him by the team's owners.

With a payroll roughly a third the size of the Yankees', Beane understood that the playing field was not a level one from an economic standpoint. What's more, at the end of the 2001 season, three of the A's star players left Oakland for bigger paychecks. To fill the void, the film (and book) show how Beane took a more analytic approach, and used statistical analysis to uncover players who were undervalued and could be purchased for much less than they were worth. Beane, together with Paul DePodesta (Peter Brand in the film...

## Wedding Mathematics, Part 3

Today I would like to wrap up my series on mathematics and weddings (a series begun here and continued here) with a little advice for soon-to-be brides and grooms who are looking to integrate some math into their celebrations. If this describes you, then congratulations - not only on your upcoming nuptials, but also on the classy way you are looking to celebrate them.

For our own wedding, my bride and I decided it would be natural to incorporate some mathematics into the table numbers. There is some freedom in how one decides to do this. For example, we initially toyed with the idea of using numbers for the tables that were somehow significant to us and our relationship, but found it too difficult to come up with examples meeting this criterion. If one wants intrinsically interesting numbers, there are many examples among the whole numbers (I was particularly fond of using the smallest whole number expressible as the sum of cubes in two different ways). In the end, though, we decided...

## Wedding Planning and the Ménage Problem

Last month I wrote a wedding-themed post on some statistics behind the show Four Weddings. Now, fully refreshed from my own two week honeymoon, I would like to take some time to discuss some other areas of intersection between weddings and mathematics.

One of the things I most looked forward to during the planning of our wedding was the determination of the seating chart. Searching for an optimal arrangement given peoples' preferences to sit next to their friends and away from their enemies was a fun little challenge. In the end, though, perhaps I made things too easy on myself. Although I assigned people to specific tables, I did not assign seats within the tables themselves. Instead, people were free to sit however they chose once they found their table.

An example of our seating. Hat tip to Dave Gilbert for the shot!

Were I truly a glutton for punishment, I would have assigned seats at each table. And were I a traditionalist, I would have arranged the seating so that couples...

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