Prime Confusion

Cidu Bill on May 9th 2017


Filed in Bill Bickel, CIDU, Fraz, Jef Mallett, comic strips, comics, humor | 65 responses so far

65 Responses to “Prime Confusion”

  1. James Pollock May 9th 2017 at 01:23 am 1

    17, 19, 23, 29, 31 and 37 are all primes.

    A “standing rib roast” is also known as “prime rib”.

  2. B.A. May 9th 2017 at 01:56 am 2

    What about C’s final comment?

  3. Kamino Neko May 9th 2017 at 02:02 am 3

    37 and 13 are also primes - the next ones at each end of the sequence Caulfield gave - but outside the range that people should be expected to pay for a prime rib. ($37 is ridiculously expensive, and anyone would doubt the quality of one sub-$13.)

  4. Daniel J. Drazen May 9th 2017 at 06:36 am 4

    So would Caulfield telling jokes about prime numbers constitute a serving of shrimp and prime rib? OK I’ll be quiet.

  5. Mark M May 9th 2017 at 07:29 am 5

    Those are odd prices for prime rib.

  6. Kamino Neko May 9th 2017 at 09:21 am 6

    Just for fun, the primes below the ones Caulfield mentions are 2 (the only even prime, by definition), 5, 7, and 11.

  7. James Pollock May 9th 2017 at 09:53 am 7

    “the primes below the ones Caulfield mentions are 2 (the only even prime, by definition), 5, 7, and 11.”


  8. Wendy May 9th 2017 at 10:23 am 8

    I can’t believe I missed the prime joke! Thanks for pointing it out here.

  9. ja May 9th 2017 at 10:51 am 9

    I’d go with the Mersenne prime rib at $31. It is the key to perfection…

  10. AmazingThor May 9th 2017 at 11:09 am 10

    Lousy comics! I was promised that once I left high school I’d never encounter math again!

  11. Regulator Machine May 9th 2017 at 03:00 pm 11

    actually, i thought they were set to maximize the possible tip….

  12. Kamino Neko May 9th 2017 at 03:32 pm 12

    Oops, yes, I missed three. The parenthetical about 2 distracted me.

  13. Colleen May 9th 2017 at 03:54 pm 13

    Now I’m going to be disappointed any time the price of the prime rib isn’t a prime.

  14. Kilby May 9th 2017 at 05:19 pm 14

    After we finish with the primes, it’s time to move on to perfect ribs. The advantage is that there is only one logical price (the first level being way too cheap, and the third is far beyond gratuitous).

  15. Winter Wallaby May 9th 2017 at 05:31 pm 15

    Kilby #14: Wow, you’re pretty cheap. I think $4.96 is a good price for perfect ribs.

  16. James Pollock May 9th 2017 at 05:36 pm 16

    “I think $4.96 is a good price for perfect ribs.”


  17. Mark in Boston May 9th 2017 at 08:08 pm 17

    Hey everybody. What do prime numbers greater than 2 have in common with teenage girls?

    They can’t even.

  18. Stan May 9th 2017 at 09:23 pm 18

    I’m not sure I understand Frazz’s comment to Caulfield’s initial question. Is he saying it’s gratuitous to make the price of prime rib a prime number? Is that it? Is that term used correctly in this case? I always thought it meant unnecessary or uncalled for. I suppose that’s true overall, but this pricing system is not completely arbitrary so there is a method behind this madness. Gratuitous?

  19. ja May 9th 2017 at 09:36 pm 19


    Caulfield is suggesting that prime rib *should* be priced using a prime number, but that a value of $37 or higher would be “gratuitous” in the sense that it is unwarrantedly high.

  20. Cidu Bill May 9th 2017 at 10:57 pm 20

    Is that what gratuitous means>

  21. Stan May 9th 2017 at 11:21 pm 21

    “a value of $37 or higher would be “gratuitous” in the sense that it is unwarrantedly high”

    Yea, that I get. It’s Frazz’s comment to start with that puzzles me. To scratch my itch, I looked up gratuitous on a couple of websites, and got these definitions:

    1. given, done, bestowed, or obtained without charge or payment; free; voluntary.
    2. being without apparent reason, cause, or justification: a gratuitous insult.
    3. Law. given without receiving any return value.
    4. not called for by the circumstances

    …and others along these themes, but nothing that I think warrants it as a reply to Caulfield’s question. Is there another use of this word that I can’t find?

  22. zbicyclist May 9th 2017 at 11:23 pm 22

    If you’re charged a gratuitous price, do you have to leave a large gratuity?

  23. ja May 9th 2017 at 11:23 pm 23

    >>Is that what gratuitous means?

    Merrian Webster offers “not called for by the circumstances : unwarranted” as its definition for this sense of the word, and offers “gratuitous insolence” and “a gratuitous assumption” as examples. So yes, I’d say “gratuitous” can be used to mean “unwarranted.”

  24. James Pollock May 9th 2017 at 11:40 pm 24

    I don’t have a fancy dictionary citation handy, but “gratuitous” can also mean “needless” or “not necessary”.

    Prime rib having a (mathematically) prime price is not necessary.

  25. Stan May 9th 2017 at 11:49 pm 25

    “I don’t have a fancy dictionary citation handy”

    Forget it then. I stopped reading after this.

  26. ja May 10th 2017 at 12:07 am 26


    Sorry, I did not read your post carefully. Like James P., I took frazz’s usage to mean unnecessary. Alternatively, it could also be more in the “unfair or undeserved ” sense, as mock disapproval of Caulfield’so joke.

  27. Stan May 10th 2017 at 02:27 am 27


    No problem. Even though JP could not site a reliable source for his definition, I’m willing to go the extra mile and trust him this time since you also agree… it probably means ‘not necessary’ in the way he described it. That word just sounds weird in my ears this way. I generally think of it as definition #2 in an earlier post of mine.

  28. Kamino Neko May 10th 2017 at 02:35 am 28

    I am confused. IME, ‘unnecessary’ is the most common definition of gratuitous - talking about ‘gratuitous nudity’ in movies, frex.

  29. Stan May 10th 2017 at 03:06 am 29

    “talking about ‘gratuitous nudity’ in movies”

    Yea, but in this context, doesn’t that mean there is no apparent reason for the nudity? It doesn’t add anything to the plot? This is the definition I had in mind when I first read the comic, but the fact that there WAS a reason for the pricing…prime rib / prime number…threw me off.

    The way James P described it is that even though there is a connection (prime / prime), it was not necessary to do that…it went a step too far. (At least I think that’s what he was saying. I’m sure I’ll be corrected if not.) The difference is subtle, but it’s there.

    I don’t know. I wish I hadn’t brought it up. Sorry.

  30. Kilby May 10th 2017 at 04:50 am 30

    @ Winter Wallaby (15) - I figured that if primes don’t get to use decimal points, then they certainly shouldn’t be used for “perfect” ribs. :-)

  31. Daniel J. Drazen May 10th 2017 at 06:38 am 31

    “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

  32. Winter Wallaby May 10th 2017 at 11:56 am 32

    The usage of “gratuitous” also struck me as off when I read the comic, although it was close enough to normal usage that I understood what the comic was going for. While the dictionary includes a definition of “unwarranted,” short dictionary definitions often don’t include all the connotations and contexts of normal usage. In my experience, “gratuitous” in the sense of “unwarranted” is primarily used for things that are in some way possibly offensive, or otherwise bad so that they need “special justification.” e.g. we talk about gratuitous sex or violence in movies, because those are things at least some might think are bad without special justification. But it would sound off to say that some dialogue in a movie was “gratuitous” just because the movie didn’t need the dialogue, and the director would have been better off cutting it. Or that I made a “gratuitous” trip to the grocery store to buy soap, when it turned out I had soap at home. Of course, a high price for a steak is “bad” in some sense, but it feels to me more like the bad of a an unnecessary movie dialogue or grocery trip.

    To (probably unsuccessfully) head off a common pointless discussion - descriptivism, blah, blah, blah, if this usage works for you, it’s fine, blah, blah. But the usage here was mildly jarring for me, and I suspect this is why it also sounded wrong to Stan.

  33. Winter Wallaby May 10th 2017 at 11:56 am 33

    Kilby #30: I had been thinking of 496 cents, but fair enough. But now you have be wondering what would constitute “perfect” ribs. To be “perfect” is it sufficient that they be extremely tasty, or do they have to be “perfect” in every way? Will they lower my cholesterol, make me super-strong, and give me a sense of perfect satisfaction and well-being? How long will these effects last? Perhaps $496 for “perfect” ribs is a fair price.

  34. ja May 10th 2017 at 02:17 pm 34


    FWIW, I found the usage slightly grating as well. To me, the purer usage of this sense of “gratuitous” is exactly what you state: “gratuitous” ought to be reserved for things that are not only lacking in justification, they are reasonably deemed inappropriate without that lack of justification. However, I think in recent years, the frequent use of the term, coupled with our desensitization to things like sex and violence in films has resulted in a dilution of the meaning to the extent that the “inappropriate” connotations have been de-emphasized. If you want an authoritative source, Cambridge includes “not necessary” as one of its definitions. says that “gratuitous” can be used to describe something that is unnecessary and mildly annoying.

  35. James Pollock May 10th 2017 at 03:39 pm 35

    Most people will come to the word “gratuitous” as used by people criticizing some creative work of popular culture which has something in it of which they disapprove.

    Gratuitous nudity in a movie, for example, is nudity that isn’t needed to tell the story. If your movie is telling the story of the time that guy streaked a nudist resort, there’s going to be nudity, but it’s probably not gratuitous, except in the sense that we don’t truly NEED a movie about a guy streaking in a nudist resort. But… applying a value judgment (”and movies shouldn’t have nudity” or “and movies shouldn’t have nudity that isn’t absolutely essential to the plot”) is arbitrary.

  36. Kilby May 11th 2017 at 04:28 am 36

    @ WW (33) - Does this mean that paying a little over eight grand will get you ribs that are even more “perfect”?

  37. Winter Wallaby May 11th 2017 at 11:11 am 37

    Kilby #36: If the restaurant sells “even more perfect ribs,” that makes me think they don’t understand what “perfect” means, and decreases the chance that I will pay $496 for “perfect ribs.” :o

  38. Mark in Boston May 11th 2017 at 11:58 pm 38

    If you object to “more perfect”, you have a bone to pick with the writers of the Constitution.

  39. Winter Wallaby May 12th 2017 at 12:30 am 39

    MiB #38: I do indeed, but more with the slavery stuff than the grammar.

  40. James Pollock May 12th 2017 at 01:20 am 40

    “I do indeed, but more with the slavery stuff”

    This stuff?
    1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
    2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

  41. ja May 12th 2017 at 10:43 am 41

    @James Pollock
    The framers of the Constitution were dead by the time that was written.

    The Constitution as originally written does not explicitly address slavery, but, as I’m sure you well know, Winter Wallaby is referring to the three fifths clause (within Article I Section 2) which addresses how slaves should be counted, and thus implicitly acknowledged the legality of slavery at the time the Constitution was ratified.

  42. Winter Wallaby May 12th 2017 at 10:57 am 42

    ja #41: Also the Fugitive Slave Clause and the Slave Trade Clause (in Article I and V). Like the three-fifths clause, they only refer to slavery through circumlocutions, but everyone understood that’s what they were about.

  43. James Pollock May 12th 2017 at 12:48 pm 43

    “The framers of the Constitution were dead by the time that was written.”

    Substitution foul. The writers of the 13th amendment were writers of the Constitution. ( “Framers” of the Constitution is a subset of “writers” of the Constitution.)

    It’s well understood, historically, that without concessions to slavery, the United States wouldn’t have been. It’s fairly well documented just how many states chose slavery over federalism. Madison only gave them 20 years of guarantee that the federal government wouldn’t outlaw slavery… the other 40 years are not on him.

  44. ja May 12th 2017 at 01:55 pm 44

    The substitution foul was yours. Both Mark in Boston and Winter Wallaby were clearly referring to the Constitution as originally written. You were the one who wanted to conflate their words into something else.

  45. James Pollock May 12th 2017 at 02:30 pm 45

    “The substitution foul was yours.”

    Nice try.

  46. larK May 12th 2017 at 03:23 pm 46

    There’s the Constitution, a complete document, signed at the end and everything, and then there are Amendments to the Constitution. The two are always presented together, kind of like the Old and New Testament are in Christian Bible. But unless we throw the whole thing out and start again, I don’t think that anyone not listed in the signatory section can ever again claim to have written the Constitution, only an Amendment To the Constitution.

    If you truly don’t understand this distinction, as it was clearly intended and understood by everyone else in the discussion, I guess I feel sorry for you. Otherwise you are just being a troll, trying to muckraking controversy where none exists.

  47. Mark in Boston May 12th 2017 at 08:33 pm 47

    Is the military draft involuntary servitude?

  48. Winter Wallaby May 12th 2017 at 10:34 pm 48

    MiB #46: In discussions about free speech, I find that the anti-free speech side invariably refers to Schenck v. United States (although they may not know it), where the Supreme Court said that you could restrict speech if it was “a clear and present danger” and like “falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” Fun fact: the speech in that case that was supposedly like falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater was just a protestor who claimed that the draft was involuntary servitude.

    tl;dr: Off to jail with you, Mark!

  49. James Pollock May 13th 2017 at 03:48 am 49

    “Fun fact: the speech in that case that was supposedly like falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater”

    Except that Holmes never suggested they were equivalent; he was using “falsely shouting ‘fire’” as an example of the fact that the free speech guaranteed by the first amendment is not, and never has been, absolute, despite it’s rather absolute wording.

    Oddly, despite the fact that conscription was one of the major issues behind the American Revolution, the Colonial governments never banned the practice once they became independent. (However, due process applies.)

  50. Meryl A May 17th 2017 at 01:12 am 50

    Conscription an issue of the American Revolution? No that I recall. The British Army was extremely well trained and had no interest in conscripting colonists. There were loyalist units formed of volunteer colonists (they had green uniforms) and loyalist militia - but this was all volunteer. Same as today - there were big differences in what people thought and where they put their loyalties. It is estimated that 1/3 of the population was for separation, 1/3 against, and 1/3 unsure - or didn’t care.

    One of the starts of the War of 1812, however, was the impression of American sailors by the British Navy, which is similar to conscription.

    Like many documents the Constitution was a greatly negotiated document to get enough states to pass it. Leaving slavery in existence was part of it, as was the 3/5 clause, the 2 senators from each state (to be chosen by and represent the states), the representation by population in the House (to be chosen by and represent the people), and the agreement to make a bill of rights after the Constitution was passed.

    I read “Retail” on Comics Kingdom (a MUCH less learned and intelligent group than here) and I am having an argument there with someone who insists that the division of the House was to make those in “slave owning” states happy. He does not understand that with the exception of Vermont - which never had slavery - all of the states still had slavery (although the process to end it had started in NH, MA. CT, RI, and PA which were going to gradually abolish it). In his mind the north were free states and the south were slave states just as they were at the time of the Civil War.

  51. Winter Wallaby May 17th 2017 at 01:39 pm 51

    Meryl #50: It’s true that people, with hindsight, can go back and exaggerate the north-south division at the time of the Constitution as the sole or most important division of the time. But that’s not to say it wasn’t a real or important division. As you say, in many of the northern states, the process to end slavery had started. I would add to that in most of the northern states, slavery was a much smaller part of the economy and population than in the southern states, and that that there seemed to be a general expectation in much of the north that slavery was coming to an end in the near future. (Actually, many people in the southern states had that expectation as well, but I think it was less widespread.)

    I hesitate to “debate” early American history with you, since I know this is your thing, but eh, why not?

  52. James Pollock May 17th 2017 at 01:44 pm 52

    “One of the starts of the War of 1812, however, was the impression of American sailors by the British Navy, which is similar to conscription.”

    Similar to / a form of

  53. James Pollock May 17th 2017 at 01:51 pm 53

    Not all of the “slave states” joined the rebellion.

    My own state became a state on the eve of the rebellion. At the time, there was considerable argumentation in admitting states, because adding a state adds two Senators to the Senate, and people in power didn’t want new Senators unless they could be counted on to side with the people already in power. Since the pro- and anti-slavery issue was so foremost in the run up to the rebellion, whether a state’s Senators would be expected to be pro- or anti-slavery was a major issue in deciding whether to admit the state.

    Oregon tried to stay neutral, and avoid taking a side. They solved the problem in a new and different way… no black persons were to be allowed to enter the state, whether slave or free. Problem solved. (Yes, that was in the first draft of the state constitution.)

  54. Ted from Ft. Laud May 17th 2017 at 04:39 pm 54

    Not conscription, but I believe the Quartering Act (forcing the colonists to provide housing and food for British soldiers at the colonists’ expense) was a considered a substantial imposition that was a significant issue in the revolution (though I don’t know how significant).

  55. Winter Wallaby May 17th 2017 at 04:54 pm 55

    Ted #54: Significant enough that we have a whole amendment on quartering. The case law on the Third Amendment is admittedly sparse.

  56. Cidu Bill May 17th 2017 at 05:01 pm 56

    Doesn’t conscription, by definition, require forcing YOUR OWN people into service?

    So what the British were doing was a horse of a different colour.

  57. Ted from Ft. Laud May 17th 2017 at 05:43 pm 57

    Certainly. That was in replay to James’ comment - it was the only thing related to military compulsion that I’m aware of that the British forced onto the colonists, but as I said, it’s not conscription.

  58. James Pollock May 17th 2017 at 08:25 pm 58

    “Doesn’t conscription, by definition, require forcing YOUR OWN people into service?”

    You mean, like the British Navy, stopping in British ports in British colonies, and forcing British subjects to serve?

  59. Meryl A May 23rd 2017 at 02:55 am 59

    James Pollock - the British Navy before the War of 1812 was impressing sailors from American ships.

    Yes, there were large differences between N & S even before the Revolution. This was related to the original settlement of the north largely by religious rights groups (even if they imposed their religion on their residents) and Crown settlement in the southern colonies. While both the settlements at Jamestown and Plymouth were businesses, Jamestown was strictly Church of England. The “Pilgrims” and other religions which settled New England felt that people should be able to read the Bible on their own - not so the Church of England so schools were much more likely to exist in the north. This was further affected by the fact that in the north people tended to live in town areas while in the south people lived more on planatations (which can be a small farm ) and so were less concentrated to make schools practical. The north also had the formerly Dutch colonies (which became crown colonies) and Pennsylvania which was open to any religion. (One of the books on Jews in the colonies I read talked about Lancaster, PA being where the Jews from the “wilderness” would come for the High Holy Days to join with the Jews living there.) But then again, by the time of the Revolution Charleston, SC had one of the largest Jewish populations in the colonies.

  60. Meryl A May 23rd 2017 at 03:05 am 60

    British troops were quartered in a house owned by John Adams in Boston, Abigail having retreated to their home in Quincy outside the city (now a National Historic Park). After the British left Boston she went to check on the house - it was apparently left in perfect condition with the rent money left on the mantle. She writes of this to John.

    Raynham Hall, home of Robert Townsend (of the Culper spy ring) was occupied by British troops in addition to the family. Despite what was shown on “Turn” Lt Simcoe was here (not in Setauket) and there exists at the house a Valentine (believed to be the oldest in the country) from him to Townsend’s sister in the house.

    The area around Huntington green was the headquarters of the British army on Long Island. Every British general one has heard of was there at one time or another. It was the longest continuously occupied place in the Revolution. The weaver’s cottage that serves as our headquarters (and did so for a short period at the start of the War) was occupied by Hessian junior officers. In the 1960s when they started restoring the house, the floor was taken up and guns hidden from the British almost 200 years before were found under the floor boards. The other houses around the Green were also occupied by the British. The men were encamped on the Green itself. The area was actively occupied from just after the Battle of Long Island (Brooklyn) until the last ships were leaving for Britain. They were not as nice here as they were in Boston.

  61. James Pollock May 23rd 2017 at 10:06 am 61

    “James Pollock - the British Navy before the War of 1812 was impressing sailors from American ships.”

    I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but the Revolution occurred before the War of 1812, and was the topic of discussion.
    “Oddly, despite the fact that conscription was one of the major issues behind the American Revolution, the Colonial governments never banned the practice once they became independent. “

  62. guero May 23rd 2017 at 12:07 pm 62

    JP - The topic of discussion was conscription vs impression. (Well, actually, it started about prime numbers and the use of “gratuitous”, if you can believe it.). If you thought the war of 1812 was out of scope, you should have pointed that out in your response at 52.

  63. Winter Wallaby May 23rd 2017 at 12:13 pm 63

    guero #62: I will point out right now that the war of 1812 is out of scope for a discussion about prime numbers and the use of “gratuitous.”

  64. James Pollock May 23rd 2017 at 12:31 pm 64

    “The topic of discussion was conscription vs impression.”

    The topic / one of the topics

  65. Meryl A May 31st 2017 at 12:48 am 65

    Who was conscripted involving the American Revolution - that is what I am confused about? The British did not conscript colonists. The Colonial army did not conscript colonists. Who was conscripting who?

    The reason I mentioned the War of 1812 - some 30 years after the end of the American Revolution, - was that in that case the British were impressing sailors, which I thought might have been confused with the American Revolution.

    True, the new states did not ban conscription, but there was not much of it. Those in the Colonial and early American army were volunteers.

    There was no draft - unless there is some other meaning to conscription that I am missing. I checked with some of the military interested members of our reenactment unit - and there was no conscription.

    One thought just entered my mind. In the various colonies all men between 16 and 60 were required to serve in their local militia. For the most part this consisted of showing up every month or two for a muster practice (which is what our reenactment unit mostly reenacts). In the earlier years of the European settlement of the continent they would be needed to protect the community from Natives, Spanish, French, Dutch (if British colonies - obviously the list of who the community had to be protected from would vary by whose colony they were). Militia units were used in the French and Indian War (Seven Years War). They were also used in the American Revolution (and later - today they are the National Guard). In the American Revolution they were basically a home guard - meaning Long Island militias as a unit fought in and around Long Island - including raids back on the British on Long Island from CT; in say South Carolina, the SC militias fought in the battles of Kings Mountain and Cowpens among others (the latter being the battle in “The Patriot). Those who were doing the overall fighting had enlisted in the Colonial Army. There were all local militia fighting in battles (including the two mentioned in SC) that were loyalist milita and fought against the colonial government and for the British - again, volunteers for same. In the NYC area there was also loyalist militia Oliver DeLancey (who had a Jewish wife by the way) was the leader of the DeLancey Brigade which was the largest. Most of the loyalist New Yorkers ended up in New Brunswick, Canada.

    So that was why I mentioned the War of 1812 as an alternative to the American Revolution in what was said.

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