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.

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]