## Archive for September 13, 2011

### Math Fortune Cookies

Today might be Fortune Cookie Day. Hard to say, really, because there are also plenty of references on the web that claim July 20 is Fortune Cookie Day, and the good folks at Holiday Insights claim that there are references to a Fortune Cookie Day in April, May and June, too. But honestly, who cares? No one should lose sleep over an incorrect date for a made-up holiday.

Besides, if you can accept that today is Fortune Cookie Day, well, that gives me a good reason to now tell you two fortune cookie stories.

The first concerns the publication of *Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks*. About an hour after Bob Reed called to tell me that he’d like to publish my book, I was dining at a Chinese restaurant. The fortune in my cookie read: *Your current plans will succeed*. Though I am unwilling to ascribe the success of a book to a fortune cookie, the fortune appears to have been true. Since publication on August 9, 2010, more than 5,000 copies of *MJ4MF* have been sold. Though I am still holding out hope that it will sell a million copies, I cannot be disappointed in a book of math jokes that reaches 5,000 people.

The second story involves my friend Andy Fielding. The day before he left for Africa to serve two years in the Peace Corps, he and I were dining at a Korean restaurant. After the meal, two fortune cookies were placed on the table. I told him to select one. “No, no, you first,” he insisted.

“But you need the good luck,” I said. “You’re leaving tomorrow.” He repeatedly refused, and the argument continued for 20 minutes. “Oh, fine!” I said finally, and took one. The fortune: *You are about to take a long and safe journey*. “Dammit,” I said as I showed it to Andy. “This was meant for you!”

“It’s okay,” he said as he showed me his fortune, which read: *You are about to take a long and safe journey*.

Someday, I hope to open a Chinese restaurant. The portions will be very large, and the existence of leftovers is guaranteed by the Chinese Remainder theorem.

When I do, I look forward to generating creative fortunes to place inside the cookies. Here are a few. (Feel free to add to this list by posting your favorite fortunes in the comments section, or get creative and write one of your own.)

- You are a complex person, and
*i*would like to be your friend. - When life throws you a curve, calculate the slope of the tangent at the point of inflection.
- You will live a long life. If you marry an actuary, it will feel even longer.
- Some day you will find a useful application for Ceva’s theorem. (Maybe.)
- Your lucky number is the square root of 17.
- Fame and fortune will find you… unless you lock yourself in an attic, trying to prove the Riemann Hypothesis.
- Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 2
^{6}? - I have found an elegant proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, but this fortune is too small to contain it.
- You are good at solving problems. Textbooks fear you.
- This cookie contains no fortune.
- Your students secretly agree that your head is not in proportion to your body.
- A foolish man will try to write a better fortune than this, but a mathematician will find it sufficient to know that a better fortune exists.
- When someone finds a counterexample to your proof, look for a different proof.
- A conclusion is your last thought before you got tired of thinking.
- You are so smart that you do not need answer keys.
- The fortune of this cookie is obvious.
- You are good at geometry. Q.E.D.
- Greet new friends with a handshake. At a math social, greet new friends with the handshake problem.
- Do not follow the instructions in this fortune cookie.
- Do not kiss a mathematician on the lips. Ever.