3 Math Stories: Each Longer Than The Previous

Part One: Preliminaries and Shit

I am a mathematician. I get paid to do math. One of the fucked-up things about doing math for a living is that high level math problems are nasty, elusive motherfuckers. I wish I could say that was hyperbole, but once you’ve spent 30 hours agonizing over a single problem, fueled only by cheap coffee and dried fruit, you will understand. Actually, don’t do that.

I digress. High level math problems are nasty, elusive motherfuckers. You often can’t solve them directly. You have to trick the solutions into coming to you. Pretend you are Mario. Now, pretend that you are Mario in Super Mario World. At this point, you’re already committed to believing you are a video game character, so it isn’t too much of a stretch to pretend you are about to enter a Ghost House. If you’ve read this far, and you’ve actually played Super Mario World, you should get the metaphor. Those levels suck ass, unless you get clever.

This person would probably be sweet at math: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIODLaJG7JE

Part Two: A Proper Title Will Also Have a Subtitle

I am a mathematician. I get paid to do math. One of the fucked up things about doing math for a living is that I actually spend very little time committing ideas to paper. Most of my time is spent pondering subtleties of a particular problem. The fucked up thing about that is that I spend very little time actively thinking about the ideas. Most of my problem solving is done by subconscious mind. So my conscious mind has a lot of time on its hands. So I do meaningful things, like try to learn Chinese.

It should be noted that Chinese does not have a word for “fart.” The closest thing they have is 放屁. The Romanization is “Fangpi,” pronounced FANG-pee. It literally translates to “release of intestinal gas.” It doesn’t actually mean to fart, even though a fart is a release of intestinal gas. The actual translation is closer to “Bullshit,” except it is a very rude way to say “bullshit.” So rude, in fact, that when I asked my friend Jing about it she refused to translate for me.

I decided that if Jing was to properly assimilate into American culture, she needed to be able to discuss farts without being offended. This lead to me building the following word: 放风. The Romanization is “fàngfēng.” It is pronounced FANG-foong. It literally means to “release wind.” And since you aren’t talking about gas leaking from your butt, it isn’t as offensive.

You’re welcome China. You now have a soft word for “fart.” I’m fucking magnanimous.

Part Three: A Proper Essay Should Have Three Sections

I am a mathematician. I get paid to do math. One of the fucked up things about doing math for a living is that I have become a villain. I have math powers and I use them for evil.

I don’t build bombs or anything. I just exploit other people’s ignorance of mathematics. Let me give you an example.

I was buying a pair pants. This is quite or ordeal for me. I’m size galoot. You can’t find pants in that size. Well, you can, but it is difficult. In any event, the particular department store was having a big sale. There was a store-wide discount of 30%. On top of that, the pair of pants I was buying was from last season, which netted me and additional 20% discount. And then they were damaged or some shit, there was a snag that wasn’t supposed to be there or something, that got me another 20% off.

When I get to the check-out counter, I notice that the cashier is visibly distressed. Being that I’m fucking magnanimous, I ask what is wrong. The following happens:

“I’m sorry it is taking so long. The cashier register is broken and it is taking forever to ring people up.” She says.

“Oh dear, well then you probably don’t want to hear that these pants have three separate discounts.”

When I said that, I honestly thought she was going to cry. She didn’t realize I was only trying to be empathetic. She was a wounded gazelle and I was some sort of large predatory cat. She didn’t stand a chance. The rest of the exchange went like this:

“Don’t worry, I’m a mathematician. I can compute my bill faster than you could by using that machine. “


“Yeah, I’ve only got one pair of pants and they are $75. The discounts are 30%, 20%, and 20%. If you add those up you get 70%, so my pants will be $22.50. With sales tax, it is around $23.95. We’ll call it $24 so you don’t have to make change.”

“OMGTHANKUSOMUCH!!!” Or some shit. I don’t really remember.

Now, if you’ve worked in retail or paid attention during 8th grade math, you would know that discounts are multiplicative and not additive. I shouldn’t have got a 70% discount. I should have got a 56% discount. I underpaid her by $12.60, which is likely more than her hourly wage. It gets better.

I charge $30 an hour for math tutoring. If you consider that 3-minute exchange a math lesson, which it was, she effectively paid me $12.60 for three minutes of instruction. That is the equivalent of getting paid $252 an hour. That means that I charged her 840% of my usual hourly rate. That’s Blackwater-type extortion. And I do things like that every day.

Motherfucking math-villain.

-Joe Volzer