Wednesday, June 18, 2014

College Life: Episode 5: A Physics Prank

For the summer, once a week I'll be sharing a story from my college days at CSU, 1984-1988. I will leave links at the end of each post for previous episodes.

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.

You might recall we were previously in physics, the physics which should have come with the warning, “Physics for Einstein Only, Beware the Rest of You Fools Who Think You Know Anything.”  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. This class, 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 my study buddies 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.” 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!”

~Tina, who yes, recycled this post from 2010, but it has been edited for content, to fit this screen, and to run in the time allowed ;-)


©2014 All Rights Reserved
Episode 1: Rommmates

18 comments:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tina - this was the first time I'd seen this - what a great idea .. honestly and as you say what an enlightened professoria! Amazing story line and such a fun tale to tell .. us and others ... and I bet he still uses it as an example of student inventiveness ...

Did he ever find out it was you? Love the story .. well done .. cheers Hilary

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Who knew Bubba the Professor had a sense of humor? That's hysterical, Tina. And yellow? Of all the horrid colors. Least it wasn't pink. Real men don't wear pink.

Andrea said...

For some reason I was surprised to learn he was married! what a fun project!

Mason Canyon said...

I'm with Andrea, I was thinking he was single too. Great story.

Brian Miller said...

ha. you have me a little self conscious at this point...i am wondering if i wear the same shirts too frequently...or what my students may graph about me...lol....

JoJo said...

HAHAHAHAHA That's so awesome!!!! Did you ever 'fess up? And also, how did you do in the class with the actual HOMEWORK? hahaha

Kate @ Another Clean Slate said...

I love this! I'm sure he got such a kick of it.

loverofwords said...

All of you who are married to engineers or math people will understand Tins's post. My engineer husband notices license plate numbers as we drive--their connection, etc. while I am looking at the scenery, colors, etc. Also so many other "Geek" things. We are opposite--art/creative vs math/logical. Numbers hold no interest to me--don't see their connection--terrible bridge player, etc. But creatively, I outshine my husband.

Rachel said...

Hahaha! I'm glad he thought it was so funny! It could have ended a lot differently if he didn't have such a good sense of humor. My boyfriend might end up doing that to me. Unless I'm going somewhere, I tend to stick to the same few outfits, or I always wear the same few shirts under my work shirt. It's really just for comfort and ease but it looks like I have no idea how to be creative with my clothes.

Andrew Leon said...

That's pretty awesome.
In some ways, I miss physics, although I hated it at the time. I was more of a chemistry guy.

By the way, did you read the Junebug story?

Melissa said...

ROFL - That's hilarious. xD

CA Heaven said...

Physics is cool. I studied physics for 5 years (and another 3 years of geophysics). Best years of my life, so far >;)

We used to have this huge math classes with 3-400 students at undergrad level, calculus, linear algebra, complex analysis, stuff like that. The last 2 years, classes were much smaller (sometimes only 5-6 students), when we started to specialize.

Cold As Heaven


CA Heaven said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jo said...

Great he took it so well. I guess it turned out that his wife was doing the laundry.

Pickleope Von Pickleope said...

That's pretty funny. So you never took credit? You should go back and tell that poor, fashion-lacking professor. Well, before I cast stones, the same graph could be made with me and blue/purple shirts. What can I say, those shades bring out the color in my eyes.

A Beer For The Shower said...

A professor with a sense of humor. I like that. Not like it was offensive to begin with. I pride myself on consistently wearing the same 4-5 shirts over and over again. I thought that's what being a guy was all about. When your husband has more clothes than you do... then you should start to worry.

TheCyborgMom said...

That is REALLY funny Tina! Thanks for the laugh :)
~Katie

Kathe W. said...

wonderful story! What a good humored professor!