Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How to Survive Physics

It was lucky for me that I was right. He was the kind of professor who not only had a wicked sense of humor, but was also a good sport. Otherwise my harmless little prank of a joke might have ended quite differently.

My freshman year in college I took PH160, Physics for Scientists and Engineers. I think a better description might have been, “Physics for Einstein Only, Beware the Rest of You Fools Who Think You Know Anything.” As a math major, I had certain science requirements to fulfill, and I thought that this would easily knock out five of them. (This torturous class also had a lab.) Oh, how wrong I was. Just because you get an A in high school physics, and are good at math, don't think too highly of yourself.

My college was the large state university, with over 20,000 students. Most of my classes were of normal size, and my honors classes had even fewer students. Ph160, however, was a herd of a class. We met in an auditorium, seating over 300, and most of the seats were full. If you wanted to have a chance at seeing the board (this was back in the days when they still used chalk on blackboards) you'd better get there early. It didn't take me long to realize I was in WAY over my head. I wasn't getting anything from the lectures, but I went anyway, thinking perhaps a smidgen of useful info might drift into my brain by osmosis.

Sitting there, day in and day out, I did notice one thing, though. The professor had only four shirts: blue, white, blue with white stripes, and white with blue stripes. I got to wondering, did he wear them in order, same order, every week? Or was he a fashionista who mixed it up and varied the order? I began an investigation. It did give me a reason for going to class, and I started planning how I was going to present my findings.

Each day I'd arrive early for my good seat, and await the next data point. In the margin of my totally useless notes, I'd make a note of the color. I used a code: B,W, BS, WS. Which totally nerdy, short sleeved oxford would he have on? To make it even more fun, I started trying to predict the next one. Mostly I was wrong. Which got me thinking, does he have multiple copies of each shirt? How else could he manage that random order without doing laundry every night? And he didn't strike me as the laundry every night kind of guy. More like beer and pork-rinds every night while watching wrestling. He was a very educated, intelligent man, but he looked more like Bubba the redneck, with beer belly and shotgun.

About a third of the way into the semester, I was enjoying my game so much that I finally gave in and told Christy what the code was. Now we were betting each other for the next day's shirt. And by now, I'd also found a study group of real engineering students who dragged me through that class with lots of patient explanations. I shared my joke with them, too.

In the end we settled on making a graph of our findings, and planned to casually leave it on his overhead projector for him to find before class. I took my time with this, more time than any real assignment, unfortunately. It was a beauty, the line wiggling back and forth, up and down in its randomness. And almost done.

Then the unthinkable occurred. The shirt one day was yellow! With white AND blue stripes! I was crushed. Now my graph was going to have this REALLY out of the norm data point. And horror of horrors, would he wear it on the last day? Because we had quite the bet going. The person who guessed right got not only the satisfaction so well deserved, but also bragging rights AND got to keep the graph to proudly display. I wanted my graph back.

The last day of the semester arrived. I was giddy with anticipation. I got there really early this day. Snuck the graph onto his overhead. And then had to wait through most of the lecture for satisfaction. Finally he noticed it. Stopped talking. “What is this?” And he began to GIGGLE. GIGGLE! Not what I expected AT ALL. The class is starting to murmur by now, so he shares the joke. “Someone made me a graph. Let me read you the title. “A Longitudinal Study of the Random Variations of Shirt Colors in Professoria Physica.” And he could barely get that out between laughs, and then he's belly laughing when he notices the errant data point. “I guess I messed you up that day, didn't I?”

In the end, no one got to keep the graph. He asked if he could keep it. “Best laugh I've had in a long time. Thanks to whoever took the time to do this. My wife is going to love it!”


My name is PJ. said...

That was an awesome idea!! Standing Ovation!!!

The easy way to access all my Letters To My Children is to go to the bottom of my blog page and click on the photo labeled Archives of Letters To My Children. Thanks for asking! I'm glad you enjoy them!

Amanda said...

This story is so funny! I seriously hope you have all these stories backed up, and are planning to print and bind one day?

Linda said...

What a funny and entertaining story! So glad he was a good sport!

Chatty Crone said...

You never said what grade you got in the class! Great story. sandie

GardenofDaisies said...

LOL! I love it! We all found ways to make college fun, one way or another!

*Michigan Momma* said...

Love it!!

Jenny said...

I love this story. And anybody that can even sit through that class without drooling is a genius in my book!

It would be fun to look him up and find out the rest of the story someday!

Donna Smith said...

Had to stop in and read this after your mention of it to Andrew. Fun way to make it through!