Blog on Math Blogs

Mathematical Digest


Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Scientists Prove Kansas Flatter than a Pancake," by Mark Fonstad, WilliamPugatch and Brandon Vogt. Annalsof Improbable Research, May-June 2003.

For those unfamilar with The Annals of Improbable Research---otherwiseknown as AIR---the science humor magazine publishes "research that makes peopleLAUGH, then makes them THINK." Mathematics is featured prominently in thisimprobable research article: "Barring the acquisition of either a Kansas-sizedpancake or a pancake-sized Kansas, mathematical techniques are needed to do aproper comparison. One common method of quantifying `flatness' in geodesy isthe `flattening' ratio. The length of an ellipse's (or arc's) semi-major axisa is compared with its measured semi-minor axis b using theformula for flattening, f = (a - b) / a. A perfectly flat surface willhave a flattening f of one, whereas an ellipsoid with equal axis lengthswill have no flattening, and f will equal zero." (The researchersexplain the methodology that proves that Kansas is flatter than a pancake.)

See also: "The Flapjack State," in the Primary Sources column of TheAtlantic Monthly, December 2003.

--- Annette Emerson