Common Ground

A traditional Venn diagram. The venerable Venn diagram is useful for showing overlapping areas between sets of things. A traditional representation of this type of diagramtranslucent colored circles are an old favoriteis on the left, but tradition doesn't amount to a hill of beans when the elements of a set, or the sets themselves, don't lend themselves to any sane comparison.

A new-school Venn diagram. For example, say you want to find out what would happen if you were to combine a sun, a blue moon, and a red lightning bolt. As you can see from a cursory examination of the intersecting areas in the Venn diagram on the right, the statistical likelihood of the Large Hadron Collider recreating the Big Bang is approximately that of two full moons within the same month.

Most farm animals aren't very good swimmers. In a similar way, combining a horse, a cow, and an octopus in a Venn diagram illustrates the difficulty of achieving meaningful results in today's DNA research facilities. Clearly, had humankind been intended for the task of creating new life forms, we would have more than two legs to stand on.

A really smart idea. If necessity is the mother of invention, the Venn diagram is its father. Grafting common household appliances to plumbing fixtures can be a mind-numbing task, but diagramming the job beforehand keeps the numbness from ruining an otherwise sunny day. In the example on the right, the diagram tells me everything I need to know about the feasibility of combining a hair dryer, a coffeemaker, and a toilet.

A really stupid idea. In rare instances, even a Venn diagram isn't enough to keep chaos from raining on one's so-called picnic. If the sheer madness of certain combinationsthe diagram on the left is only an exampleproves one thing, it's that.



  1. [Added one more point about hair dryer.]

    Sun/moon/lightning! Beautiful overlap! My favorite has to be horse/cow/octopus! The coffee maker/toilet/hair dryer is actually quite accurate, in that the toilet and coffee maker overlap in terms of having an upper chamber of water (plus, bad coffee might taste like wastewater), the dryer and coffee maker are both electric (plus, hot air makes for a frothy cappuccino), and the dryer and toilet come together in newfangled Japanese bidets (plus, they both make a whooshing sound). In other words, you could actually label that Venn diagram, if you wanted to, as I have done in my head.

  2. The actual coffee/toilet/dryer connection didn't occur to me, but then, so many things don't. Not on any conscious level anyway.

    Thanks for the inspiration for this, by the way. I owe it all to your gingerbread-man Venn diagram.