## Buffon’s Needle

Remarkably, you can estimate π by dropping needles onto a flat surface. If the surface is ruled with lines that are separated by the length of a needle, then:

*drops* is the number of needles dropped. *hits* is the number of needles that touch a line. The method combines probability with trigonometry; a needle’s chance of touching a line is related to the angle at which it comes to rest. It was discovered by the French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc in 1777.

## Clarke’s Law

Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Benford’s Corollary: Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.

Raymond’s Second Law: Any sufficiently advanced system of magic would be indistinguishable from a technology.

Sterling’s Corollary: Any sufficiently advanced garbage is indistinguishable from magic.

Langford’s application to science fiction: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a completely ad-hoc plot device.

## The Necktie Paradox

You and I are having an argument. Our wives have given us new neckties, and we’re arguing over which is more expensive.

Finally we agree to a wager. We’ll ask our wives for the prices, and whoever is wearing the more expensive tie has to give it to the other.

You think, “The odds are in my favor. If I lose the wager, I lose only the value of my tie. If I win the wager, I gain more than the value of my tie. On balance I come out ahead.”

The trouble is, I’m thinking the same thing. Are we both right?

## Unquote

“Why are numbers beautiful? It’s like asking why is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony beautiful. If you don’t see why, someone can’t tell you. I know numbers are beautiful. If they aren’t beautiful, nothing is.” — Paul Erdös

## Math Notes

73939133

7393913

739391

73939

7393

739

73

7

… are all prime. So are:

357686312646216567629137

57686312646216567629137

7686312646216567629137

686312646216567629137

86312646216567629137

6312646216567629137

312646216567629137

12646216567629137

2646216567629137

646216567629137

46216567629137

6216567629137

216567629137

16567629137

6567629137

567629137

67629137

7629137

629137

29137

9137

137

37

7

But see Not So Fast.

## No Comment

Viagra keeps plants from wilting.

Israeli and Australian researchers found that a low concentration in water doubled the shelf life of cut flowers, from one week to two weeks.

## Recursive Gratitude

Mathematician J.E. Littlewood once wrote a paper for the French journal *Comptes Rendus*. A Prof. M. Riesz did the translation, and at the end Littlewood found three footnotes:

I am greatly indebted to Prof. Riesz for translating the present paper.

I am indebted to Prof. Riesz for translating the preceding footnote.

I am indebted to Prof. Riesz for translating the preceding footnote.

Littlewood notes that this could have gone on indefinitely but “I stop legitimately at number 3: however little French I know I am capable of *copying* a French sentence.”

## All Art Is Theft

Irish astronomer William Parsons might have been surprised to see van Gogh’s *The Starry Night* appear in 1889.

He had drawn this sketch of the Whirlpool Galaxy 44 years earlier:

## Pop Quiz

When calculating prodigy Truman Henry Safford was 10 years old, the Rev. H.W. Adams asked him to square the number 365,365,365,365,365,365 in his head. Dr. Adams wrote:

He flew around the room like a top, pulled his pantaloons over the tops of his boots, bit his hands, rolled his eyes in their sockets, sometimes smiling and talking, and then seeming to be in agony, until in not more than a minute said he, 133,491,850,208,566,925,016,658,299,941,583,255!

Safford (1836-1901) went to Harvard and became director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College. Strangely, his calculating abilities seemed to wane as he got older.

## Euler’s Identity

You know these numbers:

On the surface they appear unrelated. *e* is the base of natural logarithms, *i* is imaginary, π concerns circles. But, amazingly:

Harvard mathematician Benjamin Peirce told a class, “It is absolutely paradoxical; we cannot understand it, and we don’t know what it means, but we have proved it, and therefore we know it must be the truth.”

## Audition

In 2004 a mysterious billboard appeared in Silicon Valley; Cambridge, Mass.; Seattle; and Austin, Texas. It read:

{first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of *e*}.com

Most people know that *e* (2.718281828 …) is the base of natural logarithms, but searching it for a 10-digit prime string is a considerable task — the first such string, 7427466391, starts at the 101st digit.

Solvers who went to http://7427466391.com found an even more difficult problem to solve. But solving that led them to a page at Google Labs … inviting them to submit a resume.

## A Stubborn Prime

Type 120121 into a calculator and you’ll find it’s prime every way you look at it: right side up, upside down (121021), in a mirror (151051), or both (150151).

## Rimshot

A neutron walks into a bar and orders a beer.

“How much do I owe you?” he says.

“For you,” says the bartender, “no charge.”

## A Mathematical Limerick

The integral *z*-squared *dz*

From one to the cube root of three

Times the cosine

Of three pi over nine

Equals log of the cube root of *e*.

## Math Notes

144648 = 861 × 168 = 492 × 294

185472 = 672 × 276 = 384 × 483

9949716 = 2583 × 3852 = 1476 × 6741

16746912 = 2556 × 6552 = 4473 × 3744

## The Goldbach Conjecture

Every even number is the sum of two primes.

Is that true? No one knows. Originally proposed in 1742, it’s been tested as far as 10^{18}, but the jury’s still out.

## Black Tie Optional

English biologist Richard Owen designed a collection of life-size concrete dinosaurs for London’s Crystal Palace.

On New Year’s Eve 1853, he hosted a dinner for 21 inside the iguanodon.

## Live and Let Die

James Bond never really explains why he likes his martinis “shaken, not stirred,” so in 1999 the University of Western Ontario’s biochemistry department decided to find out.

They discovered that a shaken gin martini has stronger antioxidant properties than a stirred one — which would help Bond avoid cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cataracts.

In their writeup for the *British Medical Journal*, they conclude, “007′s profound state of health may be due, at least in part, to compliant bartenders.”

See also Silly Old Bear.

## A Self-Descriptive Number

In the number 6210001000:

- The digit 0 occurs 6 times
- The digit 1 occurs 2 times
- The digit 2 occurs 1 time
- The digit 3 occurs 0 times
- The digit 4 occurs 0 times
- The digit 5 occurs 0 times
- The digit 6 occurs 1 time
- The digit 7 occurs 0 times
- The digit 8 occurs 0 times
- The digit 9 occurs 0 times

See also The Quick Brown Fox …