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The math of why it’s so hard to build a spherical Death Star in space

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Enlarge / Geometry puts some real design constraints on Darth Vader’s desire for a spherical Death Star. (credit: Ben Orlin)

Opting to build the Death Star in the shape of a sphere may not have been classic Star Wars villain Darth Vader’s wisest move, according to math teacher Ben Orlin. He investigates this burning question, and so much more, in his fabulous new book, Math With Bad Drawings, after Orlin’s blog of the same name.

Orlin started using his crude drawings as a teaching tool. He drew a figure of a dog one day on his chalkboard to illustrate a math problem, and it was so bad the class broke out in laughter. “To see the alleged expert reveal himself as the worst in the room at something—anything—can humanize him and, perhaps, by extension, the subject,” he writes. When he started his blog, he knew that pictures would be crucial to helping readers visualize the mathematical abstractions. Since he had no particular artistic talent, he opted to just cop to it upfront. And thus, the Math With Bad Drawings blog was born.

The book is a more polished, extensive discussion of the concepts that pepper Orlin’s blog, featuring his trademark caustic wit, a refreshingly breezy conversational tone, and of course, lots and lots of very bad drawings. It’s a great, entertaining read for neophytes and math fans alike, because Orlin excels at finding novel ways to connect the math to real-world problems—or in the case of the Death Star, to problems in fictional worlds.

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