Warning: you could make a very strong argument I’ve thought far too much about something inconsequential. If that makes your stomach turn, look away now.
This morning in the shower, I had an idle thought about my towel. It was, as always, folded neatly on the toilet seat. A problem that’s been bugging me for a few days is how to pick up the towel by a section of the long edge, so when it unfolds it’s the right way round.
* quiet in the back
The problem is that the short edge and the long edge look the same, and once I’ve folded the towel over a couple of times and had a shower only a madman* would remember which is which. But my towel isn’t square, so it occurred to me that either the longer or the shorter edge, after folding, could be the edge I want. Since I never make a diagonal fold, the long edge is only ever folded on top of the long edge, and likewise for the short edge. I fold the towel until it fits comfortably on top of the toilet seat, and by the time I’ve finished my shower I can’t be relied upon to remember which sequence of folds I did.
Which got me thinking about the ratio between the width and height of my towel: if I know this ratio then, by looking at the towel and counting the number of folds, I can work out which folds I’ve done, and hence which of the sides will unfold to be the long edge.
Previously unseen footage has been unearthed by The Aperiodical’s crack team of investigative journalists of Kevin Bacon and Paul Erdős writing a paper together, and a still from this is shown above. This has massive consequences for the important topics of Erdős numbers, Bacon numbers and Erdős-Bacon numbers.
There’s been a lot of maths news this month, but we’ve all been too busy to keep up with it. So, in case you missed anything, here’s a summary of the biggest stories this month. We’ve got two new facts about primes, the best way of packing spheres in lots of dimensions, and the ongoing debate about the place of maths in society, as well as the place of society in maths.
A surprisingly simple pattern in the primes
Kannan Soundararajan and Robert Lemke Oliver have noticed that the last digits of adjacent prime numbers aren’t uniformly distributed – if one prime ends in a 1, for example, the next prime number is less likely to end in a 1 than another odd digit. Top maths journos Evelyn Lamb and Erica Klarreich have both written very accessible pieces about this, in the Nature blog and Quanta magazine, respectively.
The story famously goes that two decades after Rivest, Shamir and Adleman announced the RSA algorithm for public key cryptography, GCHQ admitted that their employee Clifford Cocks had come up with essentially the same thing four years before, inspired by James Ellis’s papers on the possibility of cryptography without a secret key.
The word ‘geometry’ is derived from the Greek for ‘measurement of land’, and Dr. Johnson took that quite literally: he wanted to measure the Great Circle Earthworks in Heath, Ohio; a part of the Newark Earthworks (not their original name) built over 2,000 years ago.