Social Mathematics

The Company Geek

With each holiday season comes putrid pine-and-cinnamon-scented candles, hours fretting over gifts and, of course, the company Christmas party. One way to survive the fete is to sporadically emit esoteric mathematical factoids, which will encourage co-workers to either gather around and bask in your brilliance or scatter and let you swill drinks in peace. If the latter is your goal, you could try citing random bits of pi trivia--found at sites such as briantaylor.com/pi.htm and joyofpi.com--like the fact that in 1897
the General Assembly of Indiana tried to reset the value of pi to 3.2.

If, on the other hand, you're in a social mood, you could always propose a round of the Bacon-Erds game. In a variation of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," which tests the knowledge of movie buffs by asking them to connect any actor to the ubiquitous Bacon through six or less films, mathematicians rank themselves by how close they've come to working with Paul Erds, the prolific Hungarian genius who died in 1996. An Erds number of 2, for example, means that you've co-authored a paper with someone who has published with Erds. Now, thanks to the appearance of real mathematicians in movies like A Beautiful Mind, a lucky few can claim a Bacon-Erds number, which measures the total number of steps that separate a mathematician from both Erds and Bacon. Columbia University physicist Brian Greene has an Erds number of 3, and because he appears in Frequency with John DiBenedetto, who had a minor role opposite Bacon in Sleepers, Greene's Bacon-Erds score comes to 5. As you can see, this is just the sort of thing
to really liven up a party.