How to use maths to get chatted-up

Fact: Bad mathematics can get you chatted-up. Well, sort of. Bad mathematics certainly got me chatted-up once; I don't know if it works that way for everyone. Well, when I say chatted-up, I mean spoken to unexpectedly by a member of the opposite sex—which pretty much counted, back in the early 1980s. Or it might even have been the late 1970s.

Irish Mick and I were on our way home from school. For some reason, we were on the top floor of a bus. There must have been something wrong with the trains. Anyway, it had been raining heavily, and the windows were all steamed up, so I explained to Irish Mick (who wasn't even Irish Mick back then) how I could prove mathematically that two equals one. I wrote my proof in the condensation on the window. It went like this:

Let a = b
∴ a² = ab
∴ a² - b² = ab - b²
Factorise…
(a + b)(a - b) = b(a - b)
∴ (a + b)(a - b) = b(a - b)
∴ a + b = b
But remember, a = b, so…
b + b = b
∴ 2b = b
∴ 2 = 1
Q.E.D

Irish Mick looked on bemused, then went back to reading The Lord of the Rings. After about ten minutes, however, this cute girl on the seat behind us leant forward and said, “Excuse me, I've been staring at that proof for ten minutes, and I can't work out what's wrong with it. Can you explain, please?”

So I did.

I never saw her again.

Lesson: Never explain anything: it totally destroys the air of mystery.


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