Category Archives: Creativity

The Nancy Set

The Nancy Set (with credits to Bushmiller and Mandelbrot) -- 2019Recreational math buffs were introduced to fractals, shapes that repeat themselves at ever-smaller scales ad infinitum, in the August 1985 issue of Scientific American.  This was back when Scientific American was a thick, high-quality magazine that respected the intelligence of reasonably-educated persons — and when I was a subscriber.

Anyway, French mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010) coined the term fractal for the dimension-rich contours of such natural formations as coastlines and fern leaves.  He was responsible for advancing and popularizing the science of fractals, most notably in his work The Fractal Geometry of Nature, published August 15, 1982, 37 years ago today.  I prize my hardcover copy.

Perhaps the most well-known fractal shape is the bulbous and prickly Mandelbrot Set which featured prominently in his book.  For some reason — probably that small indentation — this figure always reminded me of the 20th-century comic strip character Nancy, who was created and drawn by Ernie Bushmiller.

By odd coincidence, August 15, 1982, the day Mandelbrot’s masterwork was published, was also the day Ernie Bushmiller died, a week before his 77th birthday.  I don’t quite know what to make of this but I’m sure it holds some cosmic (or comic) significance.

So to properly commemorate this day, I created a visual portmanteau of the signature works of both men, which I call The Nancy Set.  Although Mandelbrot and Bushmiller sat on opposite ends of the intellectual spectrum, their respective creations seem to belong to the same dimensionally-ambiguous world.

• • •

For an intriguing foretaste of fractals in Nancy’s world, here is the Nancy strip published on May 19, 1948, as Mandelbrot was about to receive his masters degree from Cal Tech:

Note how Fritzi is looking right past Nancy, back to the infinite regress in the first panel.  Is this a second way that the strip plays with endless repetition?  Or would that premise give Bushmiller too much credit?  I suspect the latter but we will never know.

Dream in peace, Benoit and Ernie.

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The Realm of Truth

The Realm of Truth, a Map by Craig H CollinsThe Realm of Truth © MMXIX by Craig H Collins
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In spite of what my title suggests, this post is not another tired whine about how ZEN is not a valid Scrabble word even though JEEP is.  (ZEN is a proper noun, hence unplayable, whereas JEEP… well, you figure that out.)  Instead, this post presents an assortment of should-be-words, complete with definitions, that have popped up in my seven-letter tray during Scrabble games.  I encourage fellow Scrabblers to try playing these words against friendly opponents, especially after a second bottle of wine has been opened — who knows, these words sound so good they just might go unchallenged.

All of these come directly from my letter tray to you:

POTIFTO (n): a tuberous vegetable unsure of whether it is a yam or a sweet potato

EARKITE (n): Barack Obama on a parasail

EFFOTEL (n): worst hotel you ever stayed in

ITOILET (n): the last place a person drops her iPhone before buying a new one

AOUEIII (int): universal bungee-jumping cry

TOETURE (n): the act of tickling a person’s pedal extremities to make them talk

RETOPIA (n): an idyllic place where enlightened Buddhists live their second lives

PREGOLD (adj): pertaining to the year prior to becoming eligible for Medicare

RAMENZA (n): drug approved in 2003 for treating allergic reactions to Japanese noodles

BEGTIME (n): the several-minutes-long period when one’s child, after being tucked in for the night, pleads for one more story to be read

TRAMPUI (n): honey-flavored liqueur favored by hobos

RAILODE (n): boxcar-themed poetry favored by hobos

SHPUZKA (n): loose outergarment worn in anticipation of drama, as in, “You cad!  I’ve never been so insulted!  Waiter, bring me my shpuzka and get me a taxi!”

QINEDAY (n): day of the week (in the European Union, between Monday and Tuesday) when U need not follow Q

ASSIBOU (n): the rude offspring of a donkey and a reindeer

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