Here’s what I know about mathematics : it’s hard. I also know it tends to involve numbers, but not for those who are really good at it. For them there are only letters and graphs and some Greek stuff. I could do Greek, being more of a language person, but not this kind of Greek, where you take one letter of the alphabet and divide it with another, just to figure out exactly how much you should exert yourself if you wanted to toss a fictional doughnut fifty yards away. No, I’ll just eat the doughnut instead, thank you very much.
Some other people are better at math. One of these people was the finely named Judith Querida Longyear. Her unusual last name already suggested some sort of fine math promise and she fully lived up to it, what with her Ph.D in mathematics from Penn State and professorship at several American universities.
Wikipedia tells me she specialized in Combinatorics, which I believe is the science used in putting Robocop together, as well as Graph Theory, which sounds more straightforward, but is actually full of loops and curves. She wrote or co-wrote such thrillers as “Hadamard tournaments of order 23“, with Dr. John Grisham, as well as “Some isomorphisms between pairs of Latin squares“, which is being prepped for a movie this fall with Denzel Washington to star as a leading isomorphism. If you have any idea of what any of this means, I will take a few weeks off so you can explain it to me.
Ms. Longyear also lived an…interesting private life. Her son, Bear Longyear (an even better name), had this to say about her :
She didn’t shop, clean house, dress up, or even cook much; she spent most of every day curled up in an old armchair with a mug of coffee, a pack of cigarettes, a pile of sharp pencils, and a yellow legal pad, upon which she doodled the hours away in a miniscule [sic] hand, occasionally cursing quietly or whooping loudly.
When he would ask her what she was up to, her answers were apparently always “incomprehensible”. I would believe that, considering the answers given to me by my 8th grade math teacher fit into that same category, and I don’t believe he was exactly what you would call a genius.
Having spent the last hour or so reading through some of these math theorems, I can’t say I understand them at all, but I must say I am very pleased at some of the names these people come up with to describe their ideas. If you call your obscure theory Monstrous Moonshine, you’ve upped the probability of me clicking on the wikipedia link by 74%.