Danny Yee >> Humour

[Forwards elided]

The following column appeared in the Chicago Tribune / DuPage County edition
Tuesday June 29 1993 page 2-1. 

/by/ Eric Zorn

/begin italics/
News Item (June 23) -- Mathematicians worldwide were excited and
pleased today by the announcement that Princeton University professor
Andrew Wiles had finally proved Fermat's Last Theorem, a 365-year-old
problem said to be the most famous in the field.
/end italics/

Yes, admittedly, there was rioting and vandalism last week during the
celebration. A few bookstores had windows smashed and shelves stripped,
and vacant lots glowed with burning piles of old dissertations. But
overall we can feel relief that it was nothing -- nothing -- compared
to the outbreak of exuberant thuggery that occurred in 1984 after
Louis DeBranges finally proved the Bieberbach Conjecture.

"Math hooligans are the worst," said a Chicago Police Department
spokesman. "But the city learned from the Bieberbach riots. We were
ready for them this time."

When word hit Wednesday that Fermat's Last Theorem had fallen, a
massive show of force from law enforcement at universities all around
the country headed off a repeat of the festive looting sprees that have
become the traditional accompaniment to triumphant breakthroughs in
higher mathematics.

Mounted police throughout Hyde Park kept crowds of delirious wizards at
the University of Chicago from tipping over cars on the midway as they
first did in 1976 when Wolfgang Haken and Kenneth Appel cracked the
long-vexing Four-Color Problem. Incidents of textbook-throwing and
citizens being pulled from their cars and humiliated with difficult
story problems last week were described by the university's math
department chairman Bob Zimmer as "isolated."

Zimmer said, "Most of the celebrations were orderly and peaceful. But
there will always be a few -- usually graduate students -- who use any
excuse to cause trouble and steal. These are not true fans of Andrew

Wiles himself pleaded for calm even as he offered up the proof that
there is no solution to the equation  x^n + y^n = z^n  when  n  is a
whole number greater than two, as Pierre de Fermat first proposed in
the 17th Century. "Party hard but party safe," he said, echoing the
phrase he had repeated often in interviews with scholarly journals as
he came closer and closer to completing his proof.

Some authorities tried to blame the disorder on the provocative
taunting of Japanese mathematician Yoichi Miyaoka. Miyaoka thought he
had proved Fermat's Last Theorem in 1988, but his claims did not bear
up under the scrutiny of professional referees, leading some to
suspect that the fix was in. And ever since, as Wiles chipped away
steadily at the Fermat problem, Miyaoka scoffed that there would be no
reason to board up windows near universities any time soon; that God
wanted Miyaoka to prove it.

In a peculiar sidelight, Miyaoka recently took the trouble to secure a 
U.S. trademark on the equation "x^n + y^n = z^n " as well as the
now-ubiquitous expression "Take that, Fermat!" Ironically, in defeat,
he stands to make a good deal of money on cap and T-shirt sales.

This was no walk-in-the-park proof for Wiles. He was dogged, in the 
early going, by sniping publicity that claimed he was seen puttering
late one night doing set theory in a New Jersey library when he either
should have been sleeping, critics said, or focusing on arithmetic
algebraic geometry for the proving work ahead.

"Set theory is my hobby, it helps me relax," was his angry explanation.
The next night, he channeled his fury and came up with five critical
steps in his proof. Not a record, but close.

There was talk that he thought he could do it all by himself,
especially when he candidly referred to University of California
mathematician Kenneth Ribet as part of his "supporting cast," when most
people in the field knew that without Ribet's 1986 proof definitively
linking the Taniyama Conjecture to Fermat's Last Theorem, Wiles would
be just another frustrated guy in a tweed jacket teaching calculus to

His travails made the ultimate victory that much more explosive for
math buffs. When the news arrived, many were already wired from
caffeine consumed at daily colloquial teas, and the took to the streets
en masse shouting, "Obvious! Yessss! It was obvious!"

The law cannot hope to stop such enthusiasm, only to control it. Still, one has
to wonder what the connection is between wanton pillaging and a mathematical
proof, no matter how long-awaited and subtle.

The Victory Over Fermat rally, held on a cloudless day in front of a
crowd of 30,000 (police estimate: 150,000) was pleasantly peaceful.
Signs unfurled in the audience proclaimed Wiles the greatest
mathematician of all time, though partisans of Euclid, Descartes,
Newton, and C.F. Gauss and others argued the point vehemently.

A warmup act, The Supertheorists, delighted the crowd with a ragged
song, "It Was Never Less Than Probable, My Friend," which included such
gloating, barbed verses as --- "I had a proof all ready / But then I
did a choke-a / Made liberal assumptions / Hi! I'm Yoichi Miyaoka."

In the speeches from the stage, there was talk of a dynasty,
specifically that next year Wiles will crack the great unproven Riemann
Hypothesis ("Rie-peat! Rie-peat!" the crowd cried), and that after the
Prime-Pair Problem, the Goldbach Conjecture ("Minimum Goldbach," said
one T-shirt) and so on.

They couldn't just let him enjoy his proof. Not even for one day. Math
people. Go figure 'em.

/end of article/

[Comments: I believe the author is grandson of Max Zorn.
Out-of-towners may need to know that Chicago's professional basketball
team just won the national championship; most of these jokes parody
events of the championship series.]
Humour << Danny Yee