Saturday,  August 4, 2001
M I N D  G A M E S

A duel in the French hotel

THE hall of Hotel de Bourgogne in France where a theatrical performance is about to begin: Mathematician Evangelista Torricelli, who is in the audience and immersed in his thoughts, is muttering to himself, "Who would wish to prevent me from freely considering figures hanging on a balance imagined to be at an infinite distance beyond the confines of the world?" "How dare you describe my nose like that?" a voice interrupts his thoughts and there is a chaos in the gallery. "Cyrano de Bergerac! The greatest poet, swordsman and philosopher in all of France! He’s here and as touchy as ever about his long nose," says someone in the audience. "Speak again who has dared me and watch how I cut your argument with my sword," says Cyrano.

"I wasn’t talking about your nose," says Torricelli, half apologetically, "but about my trumpet?" "Is it as long as my nose?" says Cyrano "It is infinitely long," Cyrano: "You blow your own trumpet." "You do that as well," says Torricelli. Cyrano: "I can do that; I am a poet." Torricelli: "It is because you don’t have enough imagination to be a mathematician." "You, Sir, are not a man of letters or possessor of as grand an ornament as my nose."


Sky-man in a manhole with astronomy for dream, astrology for nightmare

— Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan on his father, mathematician Srinivas Ramanujan

Torricelli, aggressively: "Sir, if I had such a nose, I’d amputate it!" Cyrano follows with a considerate comment on Torricelli’s trumpet: "Take care, ...your head bowed low; by such a weight ...lest head o'er heels you go!" Torricelli, graciously: "You love the little birds, I think? I see you’ve managed with a fond research; to find their tiny claws a roomy perch!" Cyrano: "All right mate, your trumpet was on time, but you were fifteen minutes late." Torricelli, tenderly: "Pray get a small umbrella made, Lest its bright color in the sun should fade!" Cyrano, politely: "Would you mind not bobbing your head? The orchestra keeps changing tempo." Torricelli: "It must be wonderful to wake up in the morning and smell the coffee Brazil." "Point it against the cavalry!" he continues, "When you stop and smell the flowers, are they afraid? Ooh, I wish I were you, to be able to smell your own ear."

Cyrano: "Enough my friend, no one has ever said so many things about my nose and in so many ways. I accept that you are a man of letters." Torricelli: "Now, you have to beat me in my own game. At 1:55, the hands of a clock form an angle that is approximately 90°. Tell me, to the nearest second, when will this angle be closest to a right angle." Cyrano: "The correct time when the angle is at 90° is given by the formula t=(3+6*k)/11, where k=0...21. The time around 1:55 corresponds to k=3, therefore, the exact time is t=(3+6*3)/11=21/11 hours. Converting this into hours:minutes:seconds, we get t=1:54:32.727273. Is that the answer you seek?" Torricelli, surprised: "Yes." Cyrano: "You may blow your trumpet now; where is it?" Torricelli: "In mathematical theory."Cyrano: "If that’s so, I apologise I got angry for nothing, but you can’t measure the pressure I face due to my nose." Torricelli: "I can measure it — with my barometer. Beyond a point, pressure needs a release, for which, argument is the best way."

— Aditya Rishi