Day dreams on lazy summer days bring many strange things to mind. The other day, I started thinking about fanciful pigs. In particular, Porky, the stuttering pig created by Warner Brothers for Looney Tunes, and later a fixture of children’s cartoons. Porky first appeared in 1935 in a film short called I Haven’t Got a Hat. Porky’s picture on the left is from a 1942 campaign encouraging Americans to buy War Bonds.
The next year, Porky co-starred with Daffy Duck in Yankee Doodle Daffy, a spoof of the popular movie Yankee Doodle Dandy. Watching this reminded me of eating Sugar Pops – with extra sugar, of course.
The Three Little Pigs
The story of The Three Little Pigs is a grisly folk tale that, at least for the pigs, had a happy ending. As you may remember, the story goes like this.
Once upon a time, a mother pig didn’t have enough food to feed her family, so she sent her three piglets out into the world to make their fortune. The first little pig was a bit lazy. He quickly built a house out of straw so he could spend the rest of the day playing.
The next day, a wolf saw a new straw house, smelled the little pig inside, and thought how tasty a pork supper would be. So he knocked on the door and said: “Little pig! Little pig! Let me in! Let me in!” [Throughout the story, the wolf is unfailingly polite.]
The pig looked through the keyhole and saw the wolf’s large paws. Yikes! So he responded with that famous phrase: “No! No! No! Not by the hairs of my chin-chin-chin.”
The wolf showed his teeth and growled: “Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down,” which he did. But the little pig escaped and ran away to his brother’s house.
Now the second pig worked slightly harder than the first and built his house out of sticks. When he finished his house, he joined his brother. The two little pigs danced and sang, before the each went into his own house. Homeless after the wolf blew his house down, the first pig ran to the second pig’s house, and together they secured the door.
The wolf loped down the lane until he found the stick house. Once again, he knocked on the door and demanded entry. The pigs looked through the keyhole, saw the wolf’s ears, and refused. But, though it took him a bit longer, the wolf blew down the stick house. The two pigs scrambled away and ran to their brother’s house.
Now, the third pig was not lazy like his brothers. He spent an entire day building his house out of bricks. He may have been surprised to see his brothers, but he wasn’t worried, because he was smarter than a random wolf. The wolf, meanwhile, was angry, hungry and determined to have a well-earned pork dinner.
This time, the wolf huffed and puffed until he was out of breath, but nothing happened. So, he tried a different tactic. “Little pig,” he invited, “I know where there is a nice field of turnips.”
“Where?” asked the third pig.
“In Mr. Smith’s field. I’ll stop by tomorrow morning at 6:00, and we can go together.”
The third pig agreed. The next day, he got up at 5:00, collected the turnips and was back home by 6:00. When the wolf arrived, the third pig said he already had a pot full of turnips. Undaunted, the wolf decided to try again. “I know where there is a nice apple tree,” he wheedled.
“At Merry Garden. I’ll come for you tomorrow morning at 5:00, and we can gather apples.”
So, the third pig woke up at 4:00, ran to the orchard, and climbed a tree to pick apples. Just as he was about to come down from the apple tree, the pig saw his enemy coming. Oops!
“Little Pig, are they nice apples?”
“Yes, I’ll throw one down for you.”
The pig threw the apple as far away as he could. He waited until the wolf went to pick up the apple, jumped out of the tree and ran home. The frustrated wolf again tried to trick the pig. He trotted to the little pig’s brick house, and knocked on the door.“Little Pig,” he said in his friendliest voice, “there’s a fair this afternoon. Shall we go together?”
You can guess what happened next. Once again, the pig left early and got to the fair first. He bought a butter churn and was walking home with his purchase when he saw the wolf coming up the path. Uh-oh! The pig quickly hid inside the churn. The unbalanced churn tipped over and rolled down the hill at increasing speed. It rolled so fast, that it scared the wolf who jumped into a tree to avoid being run over. After the churn passed him, the wolf caught his breath, came down from the tree and went to the pig’s house to tell him about the round thing rolling down the hill. “Ha,” said the pig, “that was me.”
The wolf was angry, hungry, and embarrassed. Not only had he missed catching the first two pigs, this pig made him look like a fool. The wolf decided he would come down the chimney, grab all three pigs, and eat them for supper. When the third pig heard the wolf on the roof, he fed fuel into a hot fire until the flames licked around a caldron of bubbling, boiling water. Just as the wolf came down the chimney, the pig took off the lid. The wolf fell into the water, and you can probably figure out the rest.
The True Story of the Mathematical Yellow Pig
Our last pig tale is a true story. Imagine it’s the 1960s, and two students of mathematics are discussing the many mathematical properties of the number 17. The students may have been suffering from sleep deprivation or perhaps a trace of inebriation. No one will ever know for sure why on this particular evening their two mathematical brains collided around the prime number 17.
Depending on your perspective, the number 17 is either the most or least random number. In a survey, participants had to pick a number between 1 and 20. For some reason, the number 17 received the most votes. So, is number 17 the most random because the most people thought it was? Who knows? It was that sort of random conversation which led to the yellow pig, a creature born out of the inane hilarity that often afflicts sleep deprived students.
The students decided the number 17 was so special, it should have a day of celebration with cake, silly songs, and a yellow pig for a mascot. The pig has 17 eyelashes: 8 lashes on one eye, and 9 on the other. The fanciful pig also has 17 teeth and 17 toes. Aside from these attributes, the pig has no resemblance whatsoever to the number 17, or other pigs for that matter.
And, of course, July 17 is the perfect day to celebrate.
Yellow Pig Day is most noticeably observed at the Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics Program for talented high school students held in Amherst, Massachusetts. Yellow Pig Day occurs in the middle of the program, and program alumni are encouraged to attend with their tales of Yellow Pig Days past.
Once I started musing on pigs, I realized there is a parade of fanciful pigs in our collective imaginations. And, if anyone ever tells you an event won’t happen until pigs fly, feel free to silently question the proof of that statement. Because, you just never know.
Porky Pig, as featured in Any Bonds Today? 1942.
All illustrations from the Three Little Pigs by L. Leslie Brooke.
Yellow Pig from defunct Danish tour operator “Spies” by Kotivalo
Bundestrasses 17 Number
Yellow Pig Day Cake by Gruepig
Flying Pig in Public Domain.
What is Yellow Pig Day?” The Center of Math Blog. July 17, 2019.
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.