Monday, December 05, 2005

Unstructured Discovery

So here's the story: a student comes in late to a statistics class and notices two problems on the board. Assuming that they are assignments he jots them down and takes them home. He has a really hard time with them but finally manages to solve them a few days late. He brings them to his professor, apologizing for his tardiness. His professor tells him to leave them on his desk and he'll look them over.

A full six weeks passes before his professor wakes him up one Sunday morning exclaiming that he'd written an introduction to one of the papers and that he was sending it out for publication. It turns out that the two problems were examples of well known but unsolved problems which the student had, in fact, managed to solve.

Urban legend? Too good to be true? Surprisingly, no. Mind you, urbany versions of the story have been circulating around, but the core facts are true. The student in question was George Bernard Dantzig and the events of the tale transpired in 1938.

Snopes has a full account of this rather amazing story.

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