Real-life Joke #1: Last night I went to a presentation given by the new (and I mean that this position is new) so-called Alcohol Czar of Harvard at Leverett. It’s not exactly clear what his job description is, but it must include talks on responsible drinking. So we invited him to speak in our Pizza, Pop, and Port series, which seemed apt enough. During the Q&A portion of his talk, one student questioned the validity of the “hair of the dog” hangover recovery strategy. Rather than answer straight away, the speaker asked, in return, “Who invented those drinks [mamosas and bloody Marys]?”
Without giving it a thought, Jenn raised her hand just above her head and slightly forward, and with one earnest swoosh yelled, “The British!” timing her comment with an abrupt stop which made for quite the dramatic response. Ryan, the speaker, was surprised but not undone. He tactfully posed a follow-up.
“Yes, sure. But more specifically?” I started to think. There’s got to be a trick to it. Who drinks these things? I do, when I can, and when it’s funny. Ian does, too. It was a Sunday afternoon. People go to church on Sundays. Ah, ha! I had the answer.
So it was my turn to scream a stupid response, this time after thinking it over. With just a tiny bit less histrionic gesticulation, I pointed my right index in front of me and proclaimed proudly, “Old women.”
Ryan was looking for us to say, “Alcoholics.” No cause is a lost cause like ours.
Real-life Joke #2: In Math 235: Minimal Surfaces, Professor Yau has been using the Kerr metric — a stationary, rotating black hole — to introduce various topics in general relativity. Today he wanted to discuss gravitational radiation and Bondi mass, even though the Kerr metric doesn’t radiate on account of its being stationary. [No stationary black holes radiate; that’s the point of them.] But he proceeded somehow even still. One of the magical things about the Kerr metric is that in the right coordinate system, its wave operator actually admits a solution by separation of variables. This is a suprising and blessed [though still tedious] fact. In some high schools, AP calculus students learn this method. To dream that it could work in the case of Kerr is unbelievable. To remind us how to perform the trick, Professor Yau wrote the following mnemonic on the board:
He then laughed for about forty-five seconds. This is a long time for Yau during lecture, and an even longer time for anyone who saw the joke. [Richard Courant was the famous mathematician after whom the Courant Institutue of Mathematical Sciences at NYU is named. So, you see, it’s funny. Courant worked on partial differential equations and functional analysis and the calculus of variations, so this joke is not only funny, it’s appropriate — even more than it is funny.]