What if I told you that one of the top mathematicians of today makes discoveries in his field through valuable playtime?  It’s true!  And he is not the only one.  Just think about why children play.  For a child, playtime is work.  It is their way of figuring out how the world works as they grow up.  But why does it have to stop at adulthood?  It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t.  For someone such as number theorist Manjul Bhargava, playtime is his way of figuring out how the world works.  And he is very good at it!  In fact, he won a Fields Medal in 2014.  (A Fields Medal is only one of the highest honors a mathematician can receive, akin to a Nobel Prize.)

And how does he play?  For one, he is an artist.  He studies Sanskrit poetry and is an accomplished musician.  Both of these pursuits are rich in mathematics.  Did you know that Sanskrit poetry has the Fibonacci numbers?  I talked about Fibonacci numbers in the previous posts Flowers and Fibonacci and Fibonacci Fun.  Except, in India, the numbers in the famous sequence are called the Hemachandra numbers.

How else does he play?  His office at Princeton University is littered with mathematical toys such as Rubik’s Cubes, Zometools, and puzzles.  And what studies about Fibonacci/Hemachandra numbers would be complete without a collection of pine cones?  These toys are not fun and games.  But, maybe they really are?  Either way, Rubik’s cubes helped Bhargava to solve a 200-year-old number theory problem while he was still a graduate student at Princeton.  Talk about the power of play!

If you want to read more about this accomplished mathematician, check out the following article in Quanta magazine:   2014 Fields Medal and Nevanlinna Prize Winners Announced



Why do so many people enjoy mathematics?  Is it because they like talking in some other language and sounding like an alien?  No, it’s because they like to solve puzzles and discover patterns.  Here is one fun pattern to ponder for today.

1 x 1 = 1

11 x 11 = 121

111 x 111 = 12321

1111 x 1111 = 1234321

11111 x 11111 = 123454321

111111 x 111111 = 12345654321

1111111 x 1111111 = 1234567654321

11111111 x 11111111 = 123456787654321

111111111 x 111111111 = 12345678987654321

I encourage you to play with these by hand and see just why the answers work the way they do.  Also, stare at the answers and see if you spot any more patterns.  Have fun!