“Mary’s Card Conundrum”

That’s the artist’s title for this one, as pointed out by Boise Ed, who further points out that we have no idea how that can be an organ-donor card.

Any tech / nerd / maths insight on how “pi is forbidden” connects to organ donation? Or special Aussie insights on any of it?


  1. Americans tend to think of “pies” as pastries containing fruit, but in many British (and Commonwealth) countries, meat pies are equally popular. The sources used tend to be from smaller animals or poultry, like rabbit or chicken.

  2. OK, so KIlby has figured out how it can be an organ donor card, but now, what’s the rest of it? Is this the whole of the comic, or an extract? Mary presumably is the rabbit in the mask holding the card, but what’s the conundrum? Mary is some kind of doctor, and the patient has an organ donor card, but what’s the conundrum?

  3. Mary is a nurse. .. and when I went to check that, I found out her name is Mary Scamper. 🙂 so at least that gave me a smile.

    I do not understand the comic. However, I recognize the symbol as being often used (possibly only by newspapers, et al) when discussing the campaign by mathematicians to eliminate the use of pi in favor of “tau”, which is 2 x pi. (because the ratio of the circumference to the radius of a circle (tau, ~6.28) is more important than the ratio of circumference to diameter (pi, ~3.14)).

  4. Hah!, my mind just totally accepted the “don’t put my organs in a pie” notion. Kilby’s comment about Aussie meat pies had finally permeated my brain and body.

  5. In addition to the popular British dish “Steak and kidney pie“, it’s worth mentioning that in Australia, rabbits are often viewed as invasive (and destructive) disease-ridden pests, so that converting them to food would be seen as an attractive result.

    P.S. Other instances of “meat pies” can be seen in the Aardmann movie “Chicken Run“, in which Mrs. Tweedy attempts to convert her egg farm into a chicken pie plant, or the the BBC “Poirot” episode “The Dream“, in which Mr. Farley’s business is shown to produce a massive number of (“horrible”) meat pies (the adjective being Poirot’s opinion).

  6. @ Kevin – Getting mathematicians (and schoolkids) to switch from “pi” to “tau” has about the same chance of success as the harebrained scheme (seriously suggested in my 5th grade mathematics textbook) of switching all our arithmetic to “base-12”, just because the additional and more flexible factoring was supposed to make it easier to convert fractions (if that were really a significant advantage, we would still be using “base-60”, just like the Babylonians).

  7. @Kilby — Or getting typists to convert en masse to the Dvorak keyboard layout, or expecting most people to speak Esperanto.

  8. The letter pi is sometimes used in statistics to stand for a population probability. This might give the meaning of pi in that “don’t” circle as “no chance”. But that’s both (1) terribly obscure, and (2) still doesn’t explain the comic.

  9. Perhaps the cardholder donated a pipe organ to a church?

    But I don’t see how to get from “no pi” to “pipe organ”, other than by adding letters and rearranging.

    The only other thing “no pi” suggests is “What! Lost your mittens? You naughty kittens! Then you shall have no pie!”

  10. Hmmm – my thought was that she had dug it out of a pumpkin. But that’s rather US-centric – it’s not even fall on that side of the world.

    The US has been aware of, and referencing (liter measures on milk etc), the metric system for years. It (we) haven’t been using it as the primary system of measure at all, though, and if asked most Americans would say they don’t know the system.

  11. I really wonder about the people who claim that tau is more useful than pi. If it were, you’d think mathematicians and geometers would have come up with it a long time ago. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of an instance in which 2pi is used. Introduce tau into the formulas for the area of a circle or sphere or the volume of a sphere, and you have some sometimes messy division. Trig functions for values of pi have nice neat integer solutions; you can’t define the unit circle using tau. Same goes for higher mathematics, too. As far as I can tell, tau makes things harder, not simpler.

  12. The United States may use and support the metric system, but Americans in general (except for scientists) have neither any knowledge of it nor any interest in learning. The fundamental mistake was made back in the 1970s, when the government tried to encourage people to at least gain some familiarity with the “new” units. All of the conversion tables (and even the “distance” signs on highways) included a ridiculous number of significant digits, which made everyone think that you need a calculator to work in metric. That’s hogwash: one liter = one quart, finito. Ditto for one meter = one yard. Three miles = five kilometers (so 30mph = 50kph), or alternatively 5 miles = 8 kilometers. One inch = 2.5 cm. That’s all anyone would ever really need to make usable ballpark estimates. No, you can’t do engineering with such “back of an envelope” conversions, but then again, neither can NASA: they slammed a satellite into a mountain on Mars because they forgot to use the correct units.

    P.S. @ DemetriosX – As Kevin noted above, the one obvious instance is

    Circumference = 2 * pi * radius

    Almost everywhere else, converting every “pi” to “tau” would simply add an extra “2” in the denominator of every equation that students have learned to know and hate.

  13. I do recall a brief period when gas station pumps would register in liters.

    The one prominent item we have retained as metric in everyday life is the two-liter bottle of soft drinks. They might have reverted to half-gallons — and the gallon rules for milk jugs and distilled or other processed water bottles. I don’t use the personal carry-around water bottles so can’t say what size they are.

    It’s arguable whether the whole field of medicine is part of “everyday life” or is more like science — but everyone who takes medicines regularly brushes up with milligrams all the time. I worked for a while as a pharmacy technician (at a university medical center) and we even learned grains and drams and minims — if you know that the standard aspirin tablet is 325 mg, did you also know that’s 5 grains? I grew up with cc as a liquid measure, especially for injections, and at the IV Pharmacy we did casually talk of what size syringe to use for different contexts as 1 cc or 3 cc or 5 cc or 10 cc… every once in a long while the 50 cc! But we knew that was officially ml, and these days you never hear cc. I have a little trouble recognizing or using “mill” as the spoken form for that, for some reason preferring “emm ell” or just going with “milliliter”.

  14. It’s good that you don’t call mL “mill” because a “mil” is a thousandth of an inch. Could get confusing.

    The metric system is not as unknown in the U.S. as foreigners like to think. Anyone who took high school science classes has at least a passing familiarity with it.

  15. @Powers, yes and a mill can also be a tenth of a (monetary) cent, used in expressing tax rates — in some places the rate is called the “millage”.

  16. Anyone who took high school science classes has at least a passing familiarity with it.

    Having had an exchange student recently, and therefore having to pay attention to high school again since gladly escaping it decades ago, I would dispute that statement. Indeed, from first hand experience I know that you can’t even expect a passing familiarity with math or literacy from anyone who merely took a class in high school. And our school is merely mediocre, not even “bad”…

  17. Good thing Mitch saw he needed to specify “(monetary) cent”, as I expect otherwise most would take the word to refer to the unit in microtonal music theory, where a cent is the interval or pitch ratio of 1/100th of a logarithmic semitone.

  18. Yes, though you can still get a Fifth! Which was all along a most peculiar measure.

  19. Liquor companies replaced “fifths” with 750 milliliter bottles so that they could charge the same price for a few milliliters less liquor.

    FUN WITH THE METRIC SYSTEM: Go into a hardware store and ask whether he prefers metric or English units. If he says “English” then ask him for a .134 horsepower light bulb.

    What products or commodities are sold in both English and metric units simultaneously? That is, English units along one dimension and metric along another? Two answers.

  20. This is doubtless not what you’re looking for, but virtually everything in supermarkets that’s sold by weight is sold by metric pounds (or occasionally ounces), that is, pounds and decimal fractions of pounds rather than pounds and ounces.

    Someone once wrote to Miss Manners to complain about this, and as I recall her response was rather bewildered.

  21. Well, CFL and LED lightbulbs are a separate nightmare. They have ratings for brightness, in lumens or something like that. And then there is the power consumption, probably in watts. But finally, a number which would be the watts for an old fashion incandescent bulb yielding the same amount of light. This is for the benefit of the many geezers out here who grew up knowing what sort of fixtures in what sort of placement take a 60 watt bulb or a 100 watt bulb or a 50-100-150 three-way or a 50-200-250 threeway etc etc.

    And it gets worse because the lamp will recommend some values, and also warn against exceeding some values. But the actual-wattage numbers will be given for different technologies. And the actual-wattage / incandescent-equivalent matchups will not fit with those shown on the packaging of the bulbs.

  22. Dave in Boston, your point about decimal pounds instead of pounds+ounces is well taken. But I don’t know that that can really be called metric pounds.

    At a neighborhood grocery that is now closed, I sometimes at the deli counter would ask for three-quarters of a pound of something. The scales show that sort of decimal pounds, and some of the counter staff went right for it, but others were hesitating and seemed to be targeting something like 0.6. I didn’t know whether it would have been obnoxious of me to assume they needed help and just give my order as 0.75 in the first place. Or make it worse by asking for 12 ounces.

  23. Move into the kitchen and it gets worse. Mass/volume conversions change by brand & type of flour. It’s best to covert recipes to 3D form first!

  24. @Mark in Boston: “What products or commodities are sold in both English and metric units simultaneously? That is, English units along one dimension and metric along another? Two answers.”

    Not what you are looking for, but everything on a modern bicycle is metric, EXCEPT the pedals, which are 9/16 inches, 20 threads to the inch. (and the left pedal is always reverse threaded, an innovation introduced by the Wright brothers.)

  25. For Mark’s challenge, I was going to suggest fabric (cloth), which is always sold by the linear yard, but might have a metric width. Unfortunately, looking it up, standard width of a bolt can vary a lot, but almost all examples give it in inches — most commonly 45, 54, or 60 inches.

    However, I saw one answer, on Quora https://qr.ae/pvDMr0 , that says The most common widths are 112–114cm (for cottons and silks and some synthetics). And 140–150cm for wools, linens, some cottons, some silks, other synthetics).

    The lesson I would draw from that is “You can’t trust Quora”.

  26. Mitch: It depends on what kind of metric zealot you’re talking to. On the internet I’ve run across more than a few who consider the important part to be the use of multiples of 10 and all else is details. I assume that’s because this is actually a defensible position, whereas pounds and kilograms are both completely arbitrary.

    Anyway, it’s a change from historic practice, although I’m sure it is mostly a result of the advent of digital scales rather than any sort of metrication efforts.

  27. A kilogram is(†) a liter of water; a liter is volume of a cubic decimeter; a decimeter is one 10th of a meter; a meter is one thousandth of a kilometer, and a kilometer is one 10,000th of the distance from the pole to the equator (the Earth thus has a circumference of 40,000 km); which is to say a meter is one 10,000,000th of the distance from pole to equator, and a decimeter is one one-hundred-millionth of the distance from pole to equator — cube that, fill the space water, and weigh it and you have a kilogram. ..Or actually, take a cubic centimeter of water and weigh that, and you have a gram; multiply it by 1000 and you have a kilogram. Anyway! I’m getting away from my point, which was simply to say that a kilogram is less totally arbitrary than a pound.

    † Original definitions, not current SI definition. And I’m sure I messed up by a factor of ten or more zeros somewhere up there. And don’t ask me about the difference between weight and mass…

  28. Well, now I know four things.
    Here are the two I was thinking of:

    35 millimeter (width) movie film, sold by the foot. A standard reel is 1,000 feet of film.
    Automobile tires (and maybe bicycle tires too?). P225/45R17 means “Passenger car tire, width 225 millimeters, aspect ratio 45, radial construction, for a 17 inch wheel.”

  29. Missing words from the above post: the, with
    I leave the positioning of those words as an exercise for the reader.

  30. The weight (or as you point out, more properly the mass) of a liter of water at a certain temperature is supposed to be almost exactly a kilogram. Does the English system have anything to rival that?

    Why sure! “A pint’s a pound, the world around”.

    Not exact, but useful for telling someone the gallon jug they’re carrying up will weigh about eight pounds.

  31. “A pint’s a pound, the world around”

    Which makes the ounce (weight) and fluidounce (volume) roughly equivalent too.

  32. Kilby: Base 12 would be great, but inertia is too powerful.

    Lord Flatulence: The USA was en route to going metric like most of the world, under the Carter administration (1977-81). Then came Reagan, who undid it all (and, while he was at it, ripped out the White House’s rooftop solar panels). Like jjmcgaffey said, the USA is sort of aware of metric measurement, but almost no one uses it.

    Powers: “passing familiarity” is about it. Some of the other comments here did a fine job of pointing out exceptions.

    As for the comic itself (remember that?), methinks equating 𝞹 with meat pie is unlikely here, but nothing better comes to mind.

  33. Be careful with the “world around” business since imperial pints are about 20% larger than US pints. (And “metric pints”, that is, 500 mL units, are about 5% larger.)

  34. @ MiB – Even in Europe, where virtually everything is “metric”, there are a few exceptions, such as water hoses and fittings, which are still dimensioned in inches (typically 1/2″ or 3/4″), but the length of the hose is measured (over here) in meters.

    P.S. Another metric exception are the (diagonal) dimensions of TV screens, which are also specified in inches.

  35. As to knowing about meat pies – can one forget Mrs. Lovett making and selling meat pies made of those who Sweeney Todd has a given an extremely CLOSE shave?

    And she was glad “because those pussycats are quick”. (Just in case does not make sense – with the fresh meat supplied by Mr. Todd she no longer has to catch cats for meat for her meat pies.)

  36. As I was checking the prices on soda at my local supermarket’s web site, it reminded me that there are simultaneous measurement paths, although separate and not dimensional. You can get containers in ounces: 7.5, 12, 16 , 20, and 24. In liters there are: 0.5, 1.25, and 2. Club soda comes in 1 liter bottles.

  37. Americans are somewhat familiar with savory pies, especially the frozen pot pies with meat, vegetables, and gravy. When I was a kid, they’d sometimes go on sale at the store and my mother would buy a bunch (there were lots of us).

  38. I was just looking at a neighbor’s Facebook post with picture of a chicken pot pie coming out of his oven. Homemade, I think.

  39. So I’ve come to the conclusion that Aldi and Lidl in the US deliberately play fast and loose with stupid imperial units so as to confound you making comparisons between products — sometimes they tell you the price per pound, sometimes the price per ounce, and having to multiply or divide by 16 isn’t fun or easy, assuming you even remember it’s sixteen you need to utilize. Just today Lidl had marzipan in 125g logs, or in packets of [I don’t remember how many] smaller bars — the one was 47.5¢ per oz., the other $7.99 per pound. If you just want maxim marzipan for minimal buck, which do you go for?
    (Yes, this one is somewhat easy — it’s just the one I happen to remember; all through the store, there are example like this, not all reducing to an easy approximation. Why not set a universal policy that all weights will be calculated to one unit, and volumes similarly, that seems like the more efficient way to do things, if not to deliberately confound shoppers?)

  40. “sometimes they tell you the price per pound, sometimes the price per ounce,” — At the grocery here, green bell peppers are priced per pepper but other colors are priced by the pound. Weird.

  41. There is an initiative to “standardize” unit prices in Germany. The problem is that although prepakaged meats and cheeses are always priced per kilogram, products at the deli counter are usually priced per 100 grams, and shelf prices in supermarkets are an irritating mixture of the two standards. Yes, it is easy to move the decimal point (actually a comma) by one position, but it would be better if the could standardize everything to a single unit.

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