Math in the Media

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Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Meeting: Joint Mathematics Meetings," by Barry Cipra and Charles Seife. Science, 31 January 2003, pages 650-651.

Science devotes two pages of this issue to talks presented in January at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore.

  • In an article with the anagram-inspired title "Algorithmics = Has Trim Logic," Barry Cipra describes work done by Noam Elkies on anagrams. Cipra writes that Elkies uses linear algebra and lattice reduction to dscover anagrams. A figure accompanying the article has two lists of seven chemical elements each, for which the seven elements in one list, together, can be anagrammed to form the seven elements in the other list, and for which the sum of the atomic numbers in each list is the same (285). As evidence of his angramming ability, last June Elkies won an "Anagrammy Award" from an anagram website.
  • Historians know a great deal about how Sumerian scribes learned mathematics, but they don't know how long it took them to learn it. Charles Seife writes in "How a Scribe Learned Math, ca. 1800 B.C.," that Eleanor Robson may have found a clue in two tablets at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and one tablet at Yale University. Robson found that the tablets were signed and dated, and concludes that "scribes took six months to progress from learning the 24-times tables to the 4-times tables" (the number system used made multiplying by 24 easier than mutliplying by 4). Based on other knowledge of scribes' learning, Robson believes that it took about a year for the scribes to learn multiplication.
  • Another article written by Seife on a talk at the Joint Meetings, "New Skating System Fails Virtual Replay," discusses the new method for scoring figure skating. It is summarized by Tony Phillips in the February Math in the Media column on the AMS web site.
  • Venn diagrams for two or three sets are familiar and easy to draw, but what about Venn diagrams when more sets are involved? "Diagram Masters Cry 'Venn-i, Vidi, Vici'" is an article by Cipra on a talk presented at a SIAM workshop in Baltimore prior to the Joint Meetings. Cipra writes of research by Carla Savage, Charles Killian, and Jerrold Griggs showing that rotationally symmetric Venn diagrams exist precisely when the number of sets is prime (primes had been known to be the only candidates for such Venn diagrams). A website at the University of Victoria contains a survey of results about Venn diagrams.

    --- Mike Breen