Why you don't ask five different math experts to split a check

A mathematician, a physicist, an economist, a computer scientist, and an engineer try to split a check. If that sounds like the setup to a joke, that's because it is—a wonderfully nerdy joke from Ben Orlin's Math with Bad Drawings.

This episode of Math with Bad Drawings is written as a dialogue between the five experts, each of whom tries to figure out the check according to their own discipline. Their methods don't exactly align:

Engineer: Remember to tip 18%, everybody.

Mathematician: Is that 18% of the pre-tax total, or of the total with tax?

Physicist: You know, it’s simpler if we assume the system doesn’t have tax.

Computer Scientist: But it does have tax.

Physicist: Sure, but the numbers work out more cleanly if we don’t pay tax and tip. It’s a pretty small error term. Let’s not complicate things unnecessarily.

Engineer: What you call a “small error,” I call a “collapsed bridge.”

Economist: Forget it. Taxes are inefficient, anyway. They create deadweight loss.

Mathematician: There you go again…

Economist: I mean it! If there were no taxes, I would have ordered a second soda. But instead, the government intervened, and by increasing transaction costs, prevented an exchange that would have benefited both me and the restaurant.

Engineer: You did order a second soda.

Economist: In practice, yes. But my argument still holds in theory.

Why you don't ask five different math experts to split a check


And, true to the site's title, there is the occasional stick figure white board panel.

Head over to Math with Bad Drawings to read the entire dialogue. I suspect the resolution to this problem is rather non-mathematical: a lifetime of spit in the experts' food.

Math Experts Split the Check [Math with Bad Drawings via MetaFilter]