Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Möbius strip joke

I was at Claymakers last week, gently chiseling bisqued clay goobers out of the holes of one of my Klein bottles before glazing it, when a gentleman asked me what a Klein bottle was. I explained that it is basically what you get when you sew two Möbius strips together.

After we talked topology, he said:

"Why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip?"*

I thought the best answer was "KABLOOIE!" (the sound of a brain self-destructing when faced with the oxymoronic contradiction of anything getting to the other side of a Möbius strip), but he said "to get to the same side," which is almost as good.

Other interesting questions are why a chicken is on a Möbius strip in the first place, and what happens to it once it reaches the same side. According to Frederick Winsor, author of The Space Child's Mother Goose, animals don't necessarily do well in Möbius environments:

Flappity, Floppity, Flip!
The Mouse on the Möbius Strip.
The Strip revolved,
The Mouse dissolved
In a chronodimensional skip.

Incidentally, in Winsor's world, my high flying chicken*** might have enjoyed a happier ending:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
At three o'clock, he had his great fall.
The King set the Time Machine back to two.
Now Humpty's unscrambled and good as new.**

*And to think that we hadn't talked about chickens at all!

**The Space Child's Mother Goose, verses by Frederick Winsor, illustrations by Marian Parry (1958; first paperback edition, 1963).

***Consider the amazing power of punctuation: compare a high, flying chicken to a high-flying one. You won't find this example in Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss (2004).

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