Mike Schuh's collection of engineer-mathematician-physicist jokes

OK, so engineers have some stereotypes to deal with - so let's deal with them. It turns out that mathematicians and physicists have a few of their own, and a genre of humour has developed based on this. Of course, most humour is making fun of someone else, so this is not novel. Perhaps the jokes aren't novel either...

The Hotel Fire   The Guillotine   The Beautiful Woman
The Odd Prime Number Theory   The Volume of the Red Ball   The Farmer's Fence

Note: When I first learned these jokes, they featured men; I have reworded some them to give equal treatment to women.

Please send me more of these! See my e-mail address below. Thanks!


The Hotel Fire

An engineer, a mathematician, and a physicist are staying for the night in a hotel. Fortunately for this joke, a small fire breaks out in each room.

The physicist awakes, sees the fire, makes some careful observations, and on the back of the hotel's wine list does some quick calculations. Grabbing the fire extinguisher, he puts out the fire with one, short, well placed burst, and then crawls back into bed and goes back to sleep.

The engineer awakes, sees the fire, makes some careful observations, and on the back of the hotel's room service list (pizza menu) does some quick calculations. Grabbing the fire extinguisher (and adding a factor of safety of 5), he puts out the fire by hosing down the entire room several times over, and then crawls into his soggy bed and goes back to sleep.

The mathematician awakes, sees the fire, makes some careful observations, and on a blackboard installed in the room, does some quick calculations. Jubliant, he exclaims "A solution exists!", and crawls into his dry bed and goes back to sleep.

Alternate Ending

The mathematician awakes, sees the cooling embers of the fire from one of his neighbors, fans it back into a roaring inferno, observes that "this reduces to a previously solved problem", crawls into his warm bed, and goes back to sleep.

The Guillotine

An engineer, a mathematician, and a physicist are each sentenced to die by the guillotine. As the physicist is led to the guillotine, she decides that she'd like to observe the blade as it falls, perhaps to verify v=at, and she requests to be strapped in face up. The executioner agrees (why not? it all pays the same...), and straps her in. As the blade falls, it sticks about two thirds of the way down. Seeing this, the crowd cheers - the physicist must be innocent! So the exectuioner unstraps her and sets her free.

The mathematician is next. Being well versed in matters statistical (perhaps she is an actuary), she quickly asks to be placed face up as well - after all, the odds of it happening again are pretty good, especially if the initial conditions are similar. So the excutioner obliges, and once again, the blade sticks about two thirds of the way down. Again the crowd cheers, and the mathematician is also set free.

Finally, the engineer. Not willing to do anything in public that is different from her peers, she, too, requests to be placed face up. As the executioner is strapping her in, she's looking up at the blade and studying the track in which it slides. As she does so, she notices something. "Do you see that?", she asks. "About one third the way up? If you fixed that there..."

With engineers, solving problems is not just a financially rewarding occupation, it's a compulsion.


The Beautiful Woman

An engineer, a mathematician, and a physicist are each presented with a beautiful woman and the stipulation that at each time interval, they may move half of the remaining distance towards her.

The mathematician points out that the distance will never reach zero, and walks away in disgust.

The physicist observes that at each time interval, the amount of heat transfer (body to body) will quadruple, and proceeds.

The engineer, while fully understanding the math and physics involved, is puzzled. "What's the point?", he asks. "I mean, why bother?..."

Alternate Version

(from Mark Kelly, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia, July 2004)

In this version the engineer / mathematician / physicist are all placed 8 feet from the woman.

The mathematician concludes that after N iterations there will be 8 divided by 2N feet remaining which will never equal zero so he gives up on the spot.

The physicist opines that if each iteration requires a finite amount of energy then the energy expended in the approach will be inversely proportional to the distance remaining and gives up on the spot.

The engineer says "8 feet, 4 feet, 2 feet, 1 foot, 6 inches, good enough for practical purposes".


The Odd Prime Number Theory

An engineer, a mathematician, and a physicist are testing the theory that all odd numbers are prime.

Physicist: "1 is prime, 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 - must be experimental error, 11 is prime, 13 is prime. That's enough data points; the theory is true."

Mathematician: "By convention, 1 is not prime, but 3 is prime, 5 is prime, and 7 is prime. Using mathematical induction, we can infer that all odd numbers are prime."

Engineer: "1 is prime, 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is prime, 11 is prime, 13 is prime, 15 is prime, 17 is prime, 19 is prime... Hmmm, theory appears to be true."

Second Engineer, who slept through some early math classes: "What do you mean, '1 is not prime?'"

Related stupid math joke

There are three kinds of mathematicians in the world - those who can count, and those who can't. (told to me by an actuary, who mercilessly kidded me thereafter about my not getting the joke when she first told it to me)

And another one...

Question: What is "2 plus 2"?

Ordinary, sane human: Four.

Engineer:
2
Enter
2
+

Mathematician: If we have a set of two objects, S1, and another set, S2, then we can represent the sum of "2 plus 2" as the union of these two sets. Doing so, we find...

Accountant: What would you like it to be? (from the same actuary as above) (Note: When I first added the above line to this web page in the early 90's, it seemed pretty funny. Today (2002) there is still a bit of humor in it, but after the nice folks at Enron (and Qwest and Worldcom and ...) used "commonly accepted accounting practices" (how commonly accepted? who else is getting screwed?) to profit at the expense of their employees' and shareholders' pensions, this isn't as funny as it once was. I leave it here as a reminder.)

Lawyer: (to the defendant) Relax, the state can't prove that the sum is four. (my lawyer gave me this last line, reminding me of another genre of jokes... see http://www.lemuria.org/DeCSS/lawyers.html and http://www.gnu.org/fun/jokes/lawyers.html)


The Volume of the Red Ball

An engineer, mathematician, and physicist are each asked to determine the volume of a red metal ball.

The mathematician measures the diameter, divides it by two to obtain the radius, and then performs a double intergration.

The physicist weighs the ball and then weighs it again when immersed in water. Knowing the density of water and the difference in the two weights, she calculates the displaced volume of water, which is the volume of the ball.

The traditional engineer turns to her reference text The Physical Properties of Balls and in the chapter entitled "Metal", finds the table labelled "Red". Searching for a row that the contains the appropriate model number (which is stamped on the ball), she reads across to the column "volume", ignoring those dealing with "coefficient of thermal expansion" and "software rev. level".

The modern, 'Net savvy engineer googles for "The Volume of the Red Ball" and finds this page.


The Farmer's Fence

Mathematician, Physicist, Engineer walking through a field come upon a farmer.

The farmer asks what is the best way to construct a fence that will contain his livestock (ie., most area for least perimeter). The physicist does some calculus and concludes that the best way to do this is a square fence. The engineer looks at him and laughs. "No, the best way is a circle". The physicist concedes and they start building the fence.

The mathematician just sits there for a while and eventually stands up, puts a small piece around himself and says "I declare myself to be outside".

submitted by Geoff Goehle (Colorado), June 2001


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