Funnest XKCD cartoon Evah!



I was kind of hoping someone would explain this one. I get it that Erdos was an itinerant mathematician who worked with a lot of collaborators, but that doesn’t make the comic click for me. I think I’m missing something.

I don’t get it.

I’ll let someone else explain.

I think the idea is to get your name on a published paper with this other person. The mouse over implies that will connect you to just about everyone famous in the math world.

I think.

I get it, I just don’t think it’s funny. Maybe if I were a math geek.

Erdos worked with a lot of people, like Finagle said, to the point where there are Web sites mathematicians can use to calculate their Erdos number. It’s the equivalent of a Kevin Bacon number for the rest of us, which is referred to in the caption. The people in the comic want to make their Edos numbers 1 (meaning they’ve worked directly with him) before they die.

I thought the joke was not that they want to get an Erdos number of 1 before they die; more that now that he was alive again, they got to make up for not getting it earlier. Subtle difference, I guess.

This is a “Six-degrees of Kevin Bacon” game for mathematicians. Paul Erdos was a rather prolific mathematician who co-authored a lot of papers. Anyone who co-authored a paper with Erdos gets an Erdos number of 1. Anyone who co-authored a paper with a co-author of Erdos gets an Erdos number of 2. Anyone who co-authored a paper with a co-author of - well, you get the picture. Newly-minted mathematicians can only hope to get an Erdos number of 2, unless Erdos himself rises from the grave to co-author a paper with them.

(My Erdos number is 4 [possibly 3], despite not even being a mathematician.)

More at you-know-where:

That works better. Although they do expect to get apocalypt-ed.

Note that being dead does not stop anyone from being listed as a co-author on a paper. Erdos in particular proposed a huge number of theorems which is why he is listed as co-author when someone else completes the proof. So presumably there are still people who are obtaining an Erdos number of 1.

FtG: Erdos number 3.

Bah, you’ve got me beat, ftg, mine is 4.

Bad. Didn’t mean to threadshit.

But I don’t find him very funny. Clever, yes, but not normally funny.

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers is a (in my opinion, of course) very good biography of Erdos for the non-mathematical.

(I want an Erdos number, but am not cool enough, or well-connected enough, to have one.)

I had to go look it up, too, and I think it might also reference this, from the Wikipedia articles on Paul Erdos and the Erdos Number:

I think I’m a 6, but them, I’m a physicist, not a mathematician. Physicists, I think, tend to find our Einstein number and then add two, rather than looking for a shorter path.

So, if my last Connection to Mathematics was an algebra class in High School (oh, and I figured out the volume of an egg the other day)… is my Erdos number 37?

What do you think The Average Person’s number is?

It wasn’t Randall Munroe, the xkcd guy, who said this, but I can’t remember who. The fewer the people that will get a joke, the funnier it is to those who get it. It’s like concentrating the funny. The people who got the strip without needing an explanation must have laughed their asses off, while everyone else went “Meh.”

By that rationale, “You must be a gay fish” is like the least funny joke ever. Kanye not getting it is probably the most its got going for it.

I thought it was pretty funny, in a dry sort of way. (Much like much of xkcd)

I just calculated my Erdos number, which is at most 5. I only have one publication, but it’s in CS, which is very closely connected to math. My MS advisor (co-author on my publication) has a number <=4, and he’s a coauthor with someone in the MathSciNet database.

I’ve got a Bacon number of 4 - I have a relative who’s worked on a lot of movies, and her number is at most 3. (If you can count non-actors in Bacon numbers. She’s an art director.)