Spoofs & Satire

Changed Equations That Changed the World

As it turns out, the rules of science are more flexible than you’d think. When you tinker with the mechanics of the universe, however, you’d better be prepared for drastic repercussions.

E = Bc²

Energy equals bels times the speed of light squared

When Bell Corp. purchased naming rights to the theory of relativity and altered its proofs to include a flat long-distance rate differential, the deal also gave the company access to another of Einstein’s theories, where the unit of sound named after Alexander Graham Bell replaced mass. Almost overnight, an object’s energy was calculated not by its size or density, but by how loud it was.

In an ironic twist that would have tickled Einstein, entire arsenals of atomic weapons became useless, as bombs only produce sound when they explode, and they couldn’t explode after E = Bc² because they emit no sound. Howler monkeys, on the other hand, rocked the African landscape with devastating blasts. There was a speedy reversal of power: The mightiest nations were rendered impotent as simian nature preserves turned into rogue states. All heavy construction proceeded at a snail’s pace; workers suffered conditions akin to those that plagued the Chinese railroad dynamiters, who, as Christopher Hitchens waggishly pointed out, would all have survived if they were working today.

Before long, the public realized that the new equation was part of Bell Corp.’s plan to expand beyond telecommunications. It snapped up most of the major record labels for a pittance, after teenagers learned to fear rock concerts. They bought at least one airline and two aerospace companies, air travel being tantamount to murder if you couldn’t stifle the engine noise. Turned out Bell had developed just such a technology.

Volume control became the new Strategic Defense Initiative—and Bell had the market cornered. The competition was helpless in the face of Bell Corp. jets and shock troops armed with new, electronic shofars; they were easily bought out.


Anatomical Chinese Inch times radius squared

A new Zen koan that took off like never before—”What is inside the circle?”—became so popular that it spawned koan fanatics in many Chinese provinces. Seekers of inner peace had become tired of the same old “one hand clapping” meditation aid, and this exciting new conundrum fired their souls. The subject of great philosophical debate, many dedicated their lives to it. Soon, a rowdy sect began to expunge Western functions of the circle, stating that things like the ring toss and cookies were impure uses for the most revered shape.

At the height of the zealotry, a group called the Circle of Acupuncturists reclaimed the measurement of area and circumference by refusing to recognize π. It was replaced with the ancient t’sun, the distance between the first two folds in the middle finger (Anatomical Chinese Inch in modern parlance). Unfortunately, this unit is used only by acupuncturists. Many unworthy pieces of machinery were rendered useless; others were “re-schooled” in the Circular Revolution. Martyrs to the cause offered their skin to industry, architecture and science so that the area of a circle could be calculated morally. Some award-winning photojournalism depicts volunteers lying on a drafting table, pins and a compass or two sticking out of their backs and expressions of rapture on their faces.

This was a time of great confusion. Simple pots and pans were turned into oblong monstrosities. Factories resembled Escher nightmares. Virgins were sacrificed in cyclotrons. Clocks were powered by the flow of qi and thus did not work very well, or at all, really.

Lately, the youth of China have become fascinated with flashy American trapezoids, and the circle-based society is slowly eroding.

Rd - Bq = 0

Rutherford minus Becquerel equals zero

Bq = m¹³

Becquerel equals mass to the 13th power

There’s no spite like atomic spite, as the old scientists’ joke goes. Henri Becquerel and Ernest Rutherford enjoyed a brief but celebrated friendship in the waning years of the 19th century. Becquerel, the randy old devil, and Rutherford, the brash, young Kiwi fop, could be found in the beer hall as often as in the laboratory, singing songs and nuzzling bosoms.

Whether Becquerel became jealous over Rutherford’s rising star and his breakthroughs with nuclei, or whether Rutherford failed to show proper respect to the discoverer of radioactivity, somehow the friendship soured. The two broke off relations completely after Becquerel published Rd - Bq = 0 in an anonymous letter to Le Figaro. Scientists caught the implication immediately: Rutherford was nothing without Becquerel.

Rutherford flippantly returned fire in the back of a Royal Mathematics Society newsletter: Bq = m¹³ was a shot at Becquerel’s lifelong struggle with his weight.

No one could have foreseen the devastation that would occur when, in 1975, Becquerel was posthumously honored with his own measurement. A becquerel (Bq) is a unit of radiation produced by one atomic disintegration per second. The Rutherford (Rd), which had existed for decades, was reclassified as one million becquerels. Thus, according to the innocent joke-quation, one million disintegrations minus one equaled zero. Every time one atomic disintegration took place (depending on the substance involved), the atoms shed all their radiation, causing the immediate area to become highly radioactive. The most volatile substances were contained, but the phenomenon affected random atoms all across the world.

At the same time, every becquerel, that is to say, every disintegration, suddenly gained mass by a factor of 13. As might be expected, this mass solidified in the form of giant, roving fireballs.

It was up to the scientists’ plucky heirs, Nancy Becquerel and Tyler “Spaz” Rutherford, to put things right. As it happened, both were students in the same high school; the straight-A keener and the misfit stoner reluctantly paired up to undo their ancestors’ rash tinkering with nature. After dodging some fireballs, they figured out what had happened and each “took back” one insult on behalf of the family. In the film version, they fall in love.

Boiling Point = 25 degrees Lovibond

Not so much a frat prank as a delusional frat experiment. (The university and fraternity in question cannot be disclosed, per court order.) A woozy conversation in the wee hours at a spring break house party turned briefly to the subject of beer’s greatness. As several partiers later claimed, an individual identified only as “Cobbsie” stood on a chair and challenged anyone to name a better potable than beer. No one could—or dared to. “Cobbsie” then declared that there should be nothing but beer for the world to drink.

This idea so inflamed the students that they broke into one of the campus labs and began a series of drunken experiments. The next morning researchers entered to find their workbenches littered with sleeping bodies—and the boiling point of water altered to correspond with the Lovibond scale, which measures the color of beer. Sitting in the morning sun, sipping coffee and answering police questions, none of the fraternity brothers could recall exactly how they had done this; their empirical observations had been poorly documented and contained many obscene doodles.

Still, the result was effective: Anyone who wanted to heat water ended up making beer out of it. The darker the beer, the higher the degree Lovibond; the higher the degree Lovibond, the hotter the liquid; when the liquid reached 25 degrees Lovibond—a deep, delicious chocolate shade—it began to boil. Ale and lager production became a daily household necessity, and life became cheerier at once. Lushes and glass manufacturers applauded.

But all was not well in the newly rosy-cheeked, stumbly world. Some complained that barrels of rich, dark stout were exploding, and profits in the brewing industry plummeted, since everyone on earth was brewing their own beer. Also, making beer requires boiling water, and there was no conventionally boiled water anymore. It was necessary to add impurities to the water to change its chemical composition, which produced wildly varying qualities of beer. People were constantly buzzed, but flavor suffered. Greenpeace tried to set up relief kegs and a pipeline to the world’s deep-sea trenches, where the lack of super-heated water killed the unique creatures that lived there, but the project ran out of money. It was, predictably, spent on strippers.

The final straw came when the frat brothers walked into a campus pub and beheld a nightmare: tables of wretches with scalded mouths, sipping boiling Guinness and screaming. Beer was no longer enjoyable. The architects of the beer era wept at the dystopia they had created with such wicked-awesome intentions.


TMN Contributing Writer Michael Rottman lives like a lord in Toronto. His miscellany has appeared in print in The Fiddlehead, Grain, and Opium, and online at Yankee Pot Roast, Cracked, News Groper, and McSweeney’s. More by Michael Rottman