Clean up this joke

Usual John sent this in, noting “Attic cleaning month? It looks like five minutes to sweep away the cobwebs and he’s done. What in the world is the Wizard talking about?”

So, is this just poor execution, which would be cleared up by drawing more stuff in that attic (so it looks more like mine)? Or is there something specific about the objects up here, either the wheel or the box circled in red in the second picture?


  1. I agree that the Wizard must be staring at the yellow box with the strange object (or ribbon?) on it, but I think the joke is that he plans to use “attic cleaning” as an excuse to stay away from his wife. His relationship with Blanche has always been a little testy.

    P.S. One of my favorite exchanges between the two went something like this:
    Blanche: “How do you think this bikini would look on me?
    Wizard: “Like two rubber bands on an egg.

    P.P.S. I think that’s the first wagon wheel I’ve ever seen with seven spokes.

  2. @ Maggie – Mason is not perfect, but he is a fairly good artist†: if he wanted to imply something that specific, I think he would have made the drawing reflect it. As it is, the object lying in or on that box is simply cryptic, resembling a ribbon or leaf more than anything else.

    P.S. † – Mason is a perfectly worthy “legacy” successor (for both “B.C.” and “Id”), but the syndicate is still giving credit for the latter strip to Parker & Hart, despite the fact that both of them have been dead for 16 years.

  3. Kilby, thanks for giving credit to Mason; I was just going off the attribution given by the syndicate. Since the copyright is for John Hart Studios, I wonder if this attribution is a condition imposed by the copyright holder.

    And from an engineering standpoint, a wheel should always have an even number of spokes.

  4. @ zbicyclist – Just to be sure, I looked up a few photos before sending that comment @1 off with the P.P.S., because of two “contrary” (engineering) details:

    1) Large-scale wind turbines almost always have an odd number of blades (typically three), because this produces a more even distribution of forces as the blades cycle around;

    2) The horizontal (sideways) tread gaps in modern automobile tires are purposely molded with alternatingly “random” widths, to prevent a uniform “squeal” from being produced at high speeds.

    However, even if there were even a minor advantage from having an odd number of spokes in a wooden wheel, it would be absolutely swamped by the impossibility of replicating a precise 360/7 = 51.43 degree spacing between the spokes.

  5. Wheelwrighting is a fascinating subject in itself. There actually is a lot of engineering at play in a wood spoke wheel, even from the 18th century. Different woods are used in the various components, and each wheel is slightly dished. Spoke count varied according to wheel diameter and weight of load, but it would seem they did tend to come in even numbers as was suggested above.

    The wagon wheel in the comic must be a decorative knick-knack, as it doesn’t even have a hole in the hub to fit an axle.

  6. @ Ooten Aboot – Although wheelwrights were (as Grawlix indicated) definitely master craftsmen, the tools of their trade were saws, hammers, drills, and chisels (with at most a lathe for the spokes). None of that comes close the the precision engineering (knowledge and equipment) used to manufacture an aircraft engine.

    P.S. @ Grawlix – Given that the setting is medieval, perhaps that “unusable” wheel was one of those really sick torture instruments known as a “breaking wheel”. 😦

  7. Kilby – the Antikythera mechanism was based on gears with prime numbers of teeth … you have one gear with 223 equally-spaced teeth. I can’t even imagine how one would do that without computerized cutting; I am sure that whomever made a gear with 223 equally-spaced teeth could easily make a wagon wheel with seven equally spaced spokes. Or at least build a guide for a woodworker to make one, if he or she only did tiny metal and not wheel-scale wood.

  8. @ Ian – I was surprised to discover that there is a comparable application in modern engineering using prime factors for gear teeth, which reduces repetitive wear effects.† However, the mechanical ability of a rarified, elevated researcher to produce one complex instrument does not translate into the general ability of common carpenters and wheelwrights. It is much simpler to divide a circle into 6 or 8 sections than into an odd (or prime) number.

    P.S. † – The two gears shown in the example have 13 and 21 teeth, meaning that they have to go through 13 x 7 x 3 = 273 cycles before the exact same pairing of gear teeth will repeat.

  9. Kilby: anybody who can make a wheel at all can make a wheel with seven spokes. You don’t need to divide the circle, you just need a piece of string the right length divided into 7 parts, which you can get by dividing a string of 8/7 the length into 8 parts and cutting one off or wrapping it around. And you can get a string of 8/7 the length easily enough; 22/7 is quite accurate enough to use as pi for these purposes.

    (And I imagine you can do much the same thing to make a gear with 223 teeth.)

    I have a vague recollection/sense/something-or-other that wheels with non-opposing spokes are more robust.

  10. “Wheelwrights were” They do still exist for all matter of wheels. They can be found in Amish/Mennonite areas for farm wagons. And, of course, at Colonial Williamsburg – someone has to keep those carriages and wagons well “wheeled”.

  11. @ Dave – I know that it would be possible, and I did indeed consider the possibility that there might be a reason to make odd-spoked wheels, but I was not able to find a concrete example of anyone who had actually done so, with the possible exception of one of Thor’s descendants:

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