Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Word’s the Thing

Words can be weird sometimes. Take “cellphone”. When I was in China in 2002, the term that I heard was “mobile phone”. That term sure makes a lot more sense to me. It is descriptive of its use. The underlying technology is irrelevant, and if it changed tomorrow, people would still call them cellphones. You know they would.

But since I do not have a cellphone, it is not my ox that is being gored. Here is my ox:

One of my pet peeves that I think should really get corrected is the word “comic”. I read a lot of, ugh, comics. Many of them are not comical, or it is not the main feature of them.

I have tried using the word “Webstory” instead of “Webcomic”, but that is not entirely satisfactory.

What do you think would be a good word for a story that is told mainly with pictures? Whether it is a long-term story or a series of independent items, whether it is comical or not, whether it is on the Web or on paper, what is a good term for it all?

Puzzle #92: Grandma’s Oatmeal Cookies

Grandma is making oatmeal cookies. She is making a batch of 36. To the basic recipe, she adds apple sauce, chocolate chips, and cinnamon in various combinations.

1) The numbers of cookies for one of the ingredient’s four combinations are consecutive e.g. 7, 8, 9, 10.
2) All of the apple sauce combination numbers are prime.
3) The number of cookies with exactly two of the additional ingredients is as big as it can be.
4) The number of cookies that have chocolate chips is even.
5) Each combination of additional ingredients has a different number of cookies.
6) The number of cookies that have cinnamon is prime.
7) There is only one cookie with none of the additional ingredients.
8) There is at least one cookie in each of the eight possible combinations.

Submit your answer to Gene Wirchenko <>. Your answer should be in the form of a proof. That means to show how your answer must be correct. The deadline is Wednesday, March 11, 2015 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Puzzle #90 Solution: Bob’s Bookshelf

Spoiler Inside: Solution to Puzzle SelectShow

Over There and Over Here Are Rather Close

I recently read an article about Chinese New Year (next one: Thursday, February 19, 2015). The article ( mentions how the Chinese take off a couple weeks and how that can affect businesses over here.

It is worth considering that not everyone has the same holidays (or other things, for that matter). Living in Canada and doing some work for a U.S. company, I occasionally get caught calling down on a day that is U.S. holiday but an ordinary working day in Canada.

And it is not that simple either. Four Canadian provinces have a statutory holiday in February called Family Day. Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario have theirs on the third Monday in February. British Columbia’s is on the second Monday in February.

Some holidays apply to federal employees in Canada but not to most others. Easter Monday is an example of this.

Occasionally, I have seen a question in programming forums about how to create a table of holidays for determining business days. Holidays are just another area where human systems are messy.

Have fun with your holiday mess! Just remember that I might not have the same mess.

Puzzle #91: The Library

Great Uncle Henry died and left you his books and a container for them (called a mansion). In one of the mansion’s many comfy libraries are books on many subjects.

There are 54 books on birds, 75 on abucuses, 15 on automobile repair, 19 on linguistics, 14 on linguini, 28 on etiquette, 89 on drawing, 32 on fire, 108 on Scotland, 65 on French dialects, 25 on law, 38 on swimming, 12 on diving, 32 on agriculture, 13 on triskaidekaphobia, 42 on rocketry, 3 on wishes, 5 on teddy bears, 17 on U.S. customs, 12 on U.S. Customs, 6 on lakes, 15 on rivers, 78 on computer science, 42 on organic chemistry, 77 on inorganic chemistry, 15 on windup toys, 15 on games, 6 on planets, 63 on vegetarianism, 65 on cats, 32 on dollies (toys), 16 on dollies (handcarts), 4 on libraries, 31 on history, 12 on plush toys, 19 on rolltop desks, 58 on German dialects, 42 on tourism, 75 on business, 23 on sailboats, 9 on credit cards, 14 on fireplaces, 34 on fire suppression systems, 23 on vampires, 17 on werewolves, 29 on castles, 43 on woodworking, 17 on lawns, 22 on duplication, 7 on number theory, 14 on abstract algebra, and 42 cheap, bodice-ripper romances.

Each book has at least one subject. Assume that each subject is independent of the others. For example, a book on linguistics is not necessarily a book on French dialects and vice versa. If a book can have no more than three subjects, what is the minimum number of books in this library?

Solving the above would involve a lot of work. You possibly do not have time to run through the millions of millions of possibilities, so the puzzle is actually: How would you go about solving this problem reasonably efficiently?

Submit your answer to Gene Wirchenko <>. Your answer should be in the form of a proof. That means to show how your answer must be correct. The deadline is Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at noon Pacific Time. I will post the answer shortly after.

Your Way Is Not Universal

All too often, people assume that others do things just like they do.

Sometimes, we do, but sometimes, we do things differently. Often, it has nothing to do with right or wrong. It is just different.

In Odd Language #87: How Do You Say It?, I mention a case of someone assuming his way is the way others do it. It was simply a matter of how he says certain words.

I have ran into this in a textbook on Cantonese as well. Two sounds were distinguished with English sound-likes that I pronounce the same. Apparently, the textbook was originally targetted to British. It did not help me.

If you have to explain something to someone, it might be because he does it differently. Consider checking your assumptions. For me, this is part of what makes other cultures interesting: finding out different ways of doing things or thining about them.

Odd Language #87: How Do You Say It?

In a recent USENET post, to be helpful, one person posted a list of words as a pronunciation guide for how he says “merry”, “marry”, and “Mary”.

The issue: Some of us pronounce the three words the same. Indeed, for me, it is the same pronunciation for the endings of all twelve of the words.

The list was:
Merry – Jerry, berry, ferry.
Marry – Harry, Larry, carry.
Mary – hairy, fairy, dairy.