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, MayJune 2003. For those unfamilar with The Annals of Improbable Researchotherwiseknown as AIRthe 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 Kansassizedpancake or a pancakesized 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) semimajor axisa is compared with its measured semiminor 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
