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The Aperiodical’s Best Maths Pun of 2014 Competition – The Results


It’s time to reveal the results of our search for the best maths pun of 2014.

First of all, a startling number of you seemed unclear as to what a pun is. Yet others seemed not to notice that we were asking for new puns, so we had to rule those out as well. After ruling out all the invalid entries, we were still left with a few dozen workable puns, so there was plenty to consider.

Below are the results, along with comments from our awards committee (Peter, Katie, Paul and Christian, along with guest celebri-judges Matt Parker, Steve Mould and James Grime, who happened to be nearby at the time).

Congratulations to everyone who gets a mention, and of course to our absolute favourite, the winner. Which will be revealed at the end, after you’ve read all the not-quite-as-good ones, obviously.

Now, on with the show! To start with, here are some of the entries that made us smile, but only a small amount.

Acceptable puns ($0 \lt \nabla \times mouth \lt \epsilon$)

Why are the welsh good at trigonometry? Because they already know what Angle C is.

Christian: Can’t knock this, it’s a solid pun. Only elicited a small chortle, though.

Why did Emmy Noether’s necklace keep falling off? Because it has a descending chain condition.

Katie: Controversially entered by someone else, into a competition he’s helped to judge, Paul’s pun finds that magical combination of obscure mathematical knowledge and subversion of meaning that hits just the right spot.

Christian: OK, I entered this. I think I laughed more because I don’t fully understand the mathematical context.

Why couldn’t the equilateral quadrilateral get home after school? It got on the rhom BUS!

At a recent conference on logic there were 600 attendees. If there was only one toilet, what common or garden compound proposition may validly be inferred? $p \implies q$

Steve: I like these two – although the second is a pretty old one.

A team of army personnel get on a troop transport jet and during the flight they all sit together in a ring. When the pilot asked, “What are you doing?” the commander replied, “We’re a unit circle on a plane.”

Christian: The adjective “good” doesn’t really apply to this, because it made my eyes roll to the backs of their sockets, but that does make it a successful pun.

Why was four afraid of one? Because one, two, three.

James: This may be a controversial choice, but here your expectations are subverted to create the difficult to achieve anti-humour. Andy Kaufmann would approve, but he is busy wrestling the angels.

Christian: This joke should go and sit on the naughty chair. They’ve taken the pun out of it.

Honourable mentions

The following entries each made one or two of us chuckle,

I couldn’t tell the difference between a matrix with ones on the diagonal, and the equation $\cos^2 \theta + \sin^2 \theta \equiv 1$. I was having an identity crisis!

James: Masterly. Not only does this give the phrase ‘Identity crisis’ two meanings, but they both make sense in the context of the set up. This is no mere pun, this is a fully formed joke. If the pun is the amuse-bouche of wordplay, this is amuse-steak-and-chips.

Peter: Pretty reasonable.

What do you call a lot of money that commutes? A-belian dollars!


Paul: Gains plaudits for seamlessly punning across two words, and for a novel variation on the ‘abelian grape’ classic.

Katie: I’m still laughing at this.

Christian: If Georges Papy had had his way and maths was taught starting with group theory instead of arithmetic, this is the joke every six-year-old would come up with.

How should you decorate an analyst’s leotard? With Cauchy sequins.

Katie: Mostly, I’m amused by the idea that all analysts wear leotards – but it’s a lovely bit of wordplay.

True story: A group of my friends wanted to go to a party that was a few miles away. They tried carpooling, but the car wasn’t big enough, so one person drove back and forth, shuttling people to the party. When they all got there, they realized there wasn’t anyone they knew there to talk with, so they repeated the process to get home. In short, they commuted but didn’t associate.

(Andrew M. Ross, Math Dept., Eastern Michigan University)

Peter: I’d be happy to see this win.

Christian:  A long one, but worth the journey! (So to speak. Oh dear.) A good runner-up.

Heard this joke about the Banach-Tarski paradox. I was beside myself!

James: Jokes based on advanced mathematics are more exclusive and therefore funnier. I sent this joke to three referees, and they agreed it was very good, but should include a citation to a joke they wrote ten years ago.

Peter: I like it – but it’s not really a pun, is it?

Highly commended

What’s woolly and equivalent to the axiom of choice? Zorn’s Llama

Peter: A twist on a classic.

Paul: Llama does sound a lot more like lemma than lemon does when you think about it.

James: Boom, like a young Tim Vine, Richard delivers a pun destined to become a classic of maths departments everywhere. But have you ever heard of Zorn’s theorem? It’s an antidote for a thnake bite.

And now the winning pun, which got mentions from all of our judges as one of their favourites:

The Aperiodical’s Best Maths Pun of 2014

My improper fractions helpline is now open 24/7.

James: Simple, beautiful, tidy. Also, I want a helpline like that, we could call it the Sumaritans. (a bonus point to James for that effort – CP)

Peter: A stand out.

Katie: A strong contender.

Paul: Obviously an excellent pun, though a controversial one, because puns are normally spoken but this one works better written down.

Steve: I like it.

Matt: I agree. (seriously Matt, that’s your only contribution to this whole thing? – CP)

Christian: I won’t lie – this pun is why I started the whole competition. I was sure our readers would inundate us with worthy competitors to make it pale in comparison. Oh well. Congratulations, Becca!

20 Responses to “The Aperiodical’s Best Maths Pun of 2014 Competition – The Results”

  1. Avatar Shecky R

    actually my favorite in this whole bunch is ‘Zorn’s theorem being an antidote for a thnake bite’ — Is that an old classic I’ve just never heard before, or did James come up with that on the spot?

  2. Avatar Kjartan

    Being a mere mortal, the only one I really understood was the “Rhom-bus” one. What a top gag! I think I’ll get it tattooed somewhere.

  3. Avatar John Leigh

    I wish there had been more on number theory.

    Then I might have been rendered numb.

  4. Avatar Alex

    Guys, can anybody explain what’s about “Why was four afraid of one? Because one, two, three”? I am not native English speaker and probably that’s why I cannot get it. Or am I missing some mathematics here?

    • Avatar gillyc

      Alex, you’re not really missing anything – that’s why they say it’s anti-humour; you’re expecting a punchline and don’t get one. Though it seems to be based on ‘Why is ten afraid of seven? Because seven eight nine.’ (Seven ate nine.)

  5. Avatar Gordon Hayes

    Your correspondent who, not being English, asks for the explanation of the “one, two, three” joke may like the following, (although it’s not strictly a maths joke):

    An English cat entered a cross-channel swimming race against three French cats. How do we know he won? – Because un deux trois cat sank!

  6. Avatar Larry Braden

    What weighs 400 pounds, is grey, lives at the bottom of the river and probably has real part equal to one-half?

    The Riemann hippopotamus

  7. Avatar Larry Braden

    What do you get when you cross an elephant with a grape?

    Ans: absolute value (elephant) X absolute value (grape) sin (theta)

    What do you get when you cross an elephant with a mountain climber?

    Ans: You don’t get anything; a mountain climber’s a scalar!

    What modern implement of war is illustrated by d/dk (sec k)?

    The tan k, of course!


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