What Would Euler Do?

I was going through a pile of papers today and found some old correspondence with the Mathematical Association of America.

In 2004 I purchased from them a copy of Robert M. Young’s wonderful book Excursions in Calculus. I paid by credit card on the web site, I think, or else by phone. Anyway, the point is I paid in advance. The book arrived soon after, and then a while after that I got a bill. Why they sent the bill, I don’t know, since I’d already paid. Which they obviously knew, too, since the bill was for $0.00:

Mathematical Association of America bill for zero dollars.

Maybe they meant it to be a receipt or something?

Anyway, I did what any red-blooded hacker would do when sent a bill for zero dollars by Mathematical Association of America: I paid it…

Zoom on payment amount of Mathematical Association of America bill for zero dollars.

…by check:

Check for zero dollars, written to Mathematical Association of America.

Oh, how I wanted them to deposit it! But they didn’t even try; they sent the check back uncashed. Maybe the MAA is using one of those accounts-receivable clearinghouse services, and it isn’t really their fault. But if you can’t write a check for e + 1 to the Mathematical Association of America, whom can you write one to?

Mathematical Assocation of America response to check for zero dollars.

The handwritten reason for the rejection was totally lame, too: “check needs to be wrote out in US dollars” [sic]. But it was in U.S. dollars! Sheesh, it’s like they’d never seen a π-dollar bill before or something.

22 Responses to “What Would Euler Do?”

  1. Lev Says:

    Ah, it pains me… such brilliance, wasted on the illiterate and innumerate. The MAA are lions lead by asses.

  2. Fitz Says:

    What a fine use for check number 1729!

  3. Eric H Says:

    Sounds like just the sort of thing that the author of these comics would do.

  4. Karl Fogel Says:


    Glad you noticed! ๐Ÿ™‚ You can imagine how pleased I was that that was where my checkbook happened to be when the bill came…

  5. Karl Fogel Says:


    Amen! I’m a huge xkcd fan too.

  6. Karl Fogel Says:


    Do you know something more about the MAA? Except for this purchase, I don’t really know much about them. They kept sending me letters for a long time, addressed to “Professor Karl Fogel”, asking me to join.

  7. Sam Says:

    Why is your email on your check using the one\half sign? Did they not have a “@”?

  8. red floyd Says:

    You could start with their website (http://www.maa.org/)

    I also remember many MANY years ago, when I was in high school, they sponsored a competition (where I was the winner in my HS — still have the lapel pin somewhere).

    They do good work.

  9. foq Says:

    I guess you need the trivial solution too, its a funny idea but could you expect a human being to be responsible to calculate and maybe make an _error_ while doing so? ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Funnyguy Says:

    it’s the summum of capitalism when you can pay with flesh or imaginary numbers for years of hard work and study.

  11. lispy Says:

    1729 seems like a rather dull number to me.

  12. links for 2007-07-28 « My Weblog Says:

    […] rants.org ร‚ยป Blog Archive ร‚ยป What Would Euler Do? (tags: math humor) […]

  13. Karl Fogel Says:

    Sam asks:

    Why is your email on your check using the one\half sign? Did they not have a รขโ‚ฌล“@รขโ‚ฌย?

    Answer: to fool the spam address harvesters, of course! ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Jessica Says:

    Re: XKCD

    Yes, in fact.


  15. Eman Says:

    1729 is actually an interesting number – Ramanujan liked it. It is the smallest that can be expressed as two sums of two different cubes: 1^3+12^3=9^3+10^3=1729

  16. Karl Fogel Says:


    Oh, we know, see the above comments :-).

  17. Tracy Says:

    You know you had some poor office girl totally confused with your check and she struggled to come up with even that solution to your payment.

  18. Karl Fogel Says:


    You’re probably right. Sigh :-).

  19. Sara Says:

    Why does it have to be an office GIRL who is confused? The statistics say that more women go to college than men…

  20. Karl Fogel Says:


    Good point, and thanks for making it!

  21. Karl Fogel Says:

    Seems this has been posted as a “win” on failblog:


    Actually, it might qualify as both a win and a fail!

  22. Andrea Says:

    I saw this and a similar check (the one to Verizon) many years ago. It has once again served its purpose in proving that I’m a dork….but it warms my mathematical heart and reminds me of how much I love math. Thanks, Karl! ๐Ÿ™‚

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