Math in the Media

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Mathematical Digest


Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Glimpses of Genius," by Erica Klarreich. Science News, 15 May 2004, pages314-315.

This article expands considerably on news from December regarding theStomachion---a fragment of a palimpsest, originally written by Archimedes. Thefirst analysis, done almost 100 years ago, didn't reveal anything beyond whatlooked like a simple children's puzzle of forming a square out of a collectionof 14 triangles, quadrilaterals, and a pentagon. Now it appears that Archimedeswas actually doing some combinatorics, in this case counting the number of waysthe pieces could be arranged to form a square. Klarreich cites Persi Diaconis,Ron Graham, and Fan Chung, who not only counted the 268 ways to arrange thepieces, but also have looked at properties that the arrangements have. RevielNetz, a math historian at Stanford, and Nigel Wilson, a classics professor atOxford, are preparing an article regarding their study of the palimpsest.

--- Mike Breen