Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Thirsty: Best Urban Legends? From Three Sigma.

One thing I dearly love is urban legends about college.

Scene: A huge lecture theatre, with many students busily writing in test books. The professor looks at his watch, and announces, "pencils down." The stragglers all reluctantly put down their pens and file up to the desk with their papers, except one student who keeps writing, putting the finishing touches on their paper.

A few moments later he gets in line, but the keen-eyed professor says, "No, I won't accept your paper. You kept writing after I called time. It's not fair to the other students you get more time."

The student pulls himself up to his full height and stares the professor in the eye indignantly. "Do you know who I am?"

The professor, slightly nervously but standing on his principles, says, "No."

"Good" says the student, and shoves his paper into the middle of the pile.

Q: What's your favorite legend? 


  1. The library was designed by the finest architects in the world--who utterly neglected to account for the weight of books. When they moved all the books into the new building, it sank two inches!

    When I was in high school we heard this touring an Ivy and I was agog, until my dad told me they told the same story back in his day, at Syracuse.

    1. Yup, we had it at Northwestern, too. That the library was built on lakefill was a twist to the story: the "soft" lakebed was invariably mentioned. That the roof leaks near the ground-floor entrance was widely cited as evidence.

      Imagine my surprise when I visited U. of Illinois, and heard that their library was sinking, and for exactly the same reason! Hmmm, must've been the same architectural firm...

    2. Hah! I've never heard that one (not even on the campus where the library is a memorial to a victim of the Titanic).

    3. I've heard that one about at least three schools too.

  2. Professor is teaching behaviorism. The students pick up on the lesson, and begin paying close attention to him when he stands on one side of the room, and staring at their phones or at the clock when he stands on another side. He begins teaching only on one side of the room. By the end of the term, they have trained him to stand in the wastebasket.

  3. First year calculus final exam (at the time, taking calculus was a required course for ANY science degree...), 1 or 2 hours in a student stands up on their chair and starts yelling "I'm an integral!" and with an arm and a leg makes an 'S' shape to their body, mimicking an integral. They keep doing this, yelling out "I'm an integral! I'm an integral!" until the invigilators drag the student from their seat and out of the exam hall, with the student in ever more strident tones yelling out "I'm an integral, I'm an integral!" Everyone neighbouring the student gets guaranteed at least a B in the course.

    We all secretly hoped that it would happen during our calculus exam, and we'd get to be the neighbour to the student who has a nervous breakdown.

    In reality, we DID have fellow classmates have nervous breakdowns during final exams, but it occurred in chemistry or in physics, and took the form of the student asking to go to the washroom, where they then totally lost it with some modicum of privacy and no disruption to the exam hall, while the neighbours were left wondering why the student left, did not return, and at some point the invigilators came and collected their stuff...

    1. "at the time, taking calculus was a required course for ANY science degree..." where is it not and for which science degree? Is this an American thing?

    2. At some institutions I've seen the math requirement modified where a 1st year course has to be taken, but it need not necessarily be calculus (i.e. it could be algebra instead). I'm equally frustrated that I've seen 1st yr physics dropped at many unis as a requirement to complete a science degree.

  4. Torquemada in TrainingDecember 2, 2016 at 7:01 PM

    Prof throws essays down the stairs. The highest ones get the As, and so on down. This is real. But he wasn't a total dick about it. If any student questioned the grade he would actually read it and grade accordingly. But this only happened five or so times a semester.

    Then there's the old multiple-page test that begins "Read the entire test before beginning," and ending with "Do not do any of the problems! Turn in the blank test immediately and receive a score of 100." This is also real. I used to do it all the time. The usual hit rate was zero, the highest ever was three.

    Once you realize you can mess with 'em, teaching takes on a whole other dimension.

  5. An old favorite is why there is no Nobel prize in mathematics: because Mrs. Nobel was sleeping with a mathematician, often said to be Gosta Mittag-Loeffler. This cannot possibly be true, because Nobel never married. He did have a girlfriend, a Viennese woman named Sophie Hess, who lived in Paris, but it is doubtful that she ever met Mittag-Loeffler, since he lived in Sweden, and travel was more difficult in those days.

    Why Mittag-Loeffler? He was a leading mathematician in Sweden at the time, and his institute was expecting a major bequest from Nobel. When they didn't get it, since he put the bulk of his fortune into the prize, tongues wagged.

  6. There was a pretty common one on the campuses of highly-competitive schools during my undergrad years (at least if the results of comparing notes with grad-school classmates can be trusted) that if your roommate committed suicide, you'd get all As than semester. That one always seemed a bit dangerous to me.

    It has presumably died out by now, if for no other reason than that most students at most of those places now get all As all the time anyway. At least rampant grade inflation removes one possible temptation for murdering your roommate and making it look like a suicide.


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