Interview with Derrick Niederman, writer of Quantity Freak

On this interview we sit down with writer and mathematician Derrick Niederman to debate his participating, not too long ago printed e-book concerning the first 200 pure numbers, ‘Quantity Freak: From 1 to 200, The Hidden Language of Numbers Revealed’.

1. A few of our readers are possible acquainted with your work, however may you inform us extra about your self and your mathematical background?

I majored in arithmetic as an undergraduate at Yale, from which I graduated in 1976. I believe I even received a few math prizes, however I’ve to admit that I wasn’t the highest mathematician in my class. That distinction would absolutely have gone to Jonathan Rogawski, who final I knew was a professor of arithmetic at UCLA. (Discover that I simply created the impression that I used to be the second-best mathematician in my class. I don’t know whether or not that’s true, however I’ll take it.)

Anyway, I went on to get a Ph.D. in arithmetic at M.I.T. and have remained within the Boston space ever since. I went into the funding enterprise within the early Eighties, primarily based on the idea that quantitative experience could be a superb match. However the fact is that I received progressively extra qualitative as time glided by, going from securities analyst to funding author. I don’t know whether or not that transition made full sense, however it in the end gave me the chance to write down some books – first about investments after which about numbers, together with a number of volumes of puzzle books.

2. What impressed you to write down Quantity Freak?

I used to be requested by a writer to provide you with an idea that will do for arithmetic what a barely completely different idea did for the pure sciences. The thought I got here up with was extra of a coffee-table e-book than the sized-down model I now have in my palms, however that effort was thought of too costly. I subsequently forged a wider internet for the challenge, and was lucky sufficient to draw publishers within the U.S., the U.Okay., and Australia.

3. The e-book is chock-full of fascinating details concerning the first 200 pure numbers. What did you study within the strategy of penning this e-book that you just didn’t know earlier than?

Properly, I assume the pat reply is that I discovered how little I really knew. Among the work on planar tilings was new to me, though it most likely shouldn’t have been – for instance, the Archimedean and Laves tilings I focus on in #11 are fairly stunning however I hadn’t been conscious of their categorization and duality. And I wasn’t acquainted with the work of mathematicians reminiscent of Erich Friedman of Stetson College, anyone who absolutely may have pulled off a e-book like this: I used to be solely too pleased, for instance, to incorporate “Friedman numbers” reminiscent of 127.

In self-defense, I wasn’t an entire neophyte. One huge benefit I had in writing the e-book – aside from doing it within the Web age, which gave me an abundance of fabric – was that I’ve a superb reminiscence for mathematical and popular culture trivia. For instance, I loved reaching again and remembering that the ultra-high safety “D” block at Alcatraz jail had exactly 42 particular person cells, one thing that meshed fairly properly with the image of the “magic dice” I displayed elsewhere within the dialogue of #42.

4. Having learn this e-book I really feel that it’s accessible to just about anybody. Who do you are feeling is the best target market for the e-book?

Boy is {that a} good query. My reply is that it’s for completely anybody, but when that’s too mealy-mouthed a reply, I assume I’d say that I’d be particularly happy if mother and father purchased Quantity Freak to (efficiently!) introduce their children to the world of numbers in a method that possibly, simply possibly, is friendlier than what these children had been getting elsewhere.

5. Was there something that you just want you may have included within the e-book however didn’t?

One other good query, and I’m afraid a painful one. The e-book was initially slated to go from 1 to 300 — as in an ideal sport in bowling, amongst different issues — however the editorial powers-that-be ultimately whittled that all the way down to 200. Too unhealthy, as my dialogue of the notorious 256th stage of Pac-Man was definitely worth the value of admission. (Say, that’s a subject I didn’t find out about once I began the e-book!) I additionally misplaced some treasured images, charts and diagrams alongside the way in which. And you may think about how I felt when a buddy berated me for not mentioning “77 Sundown Strip,” when in fact my unique manuscript talked about the present – and I’ve {a photograph} of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. to show it! (These of my classic – I’m 54 – will bear in mind the present’s catchy theme tune, however not many are conscious that 77 was a selected sensible choice for the road tackle as a result of it’s the smallest integer whose English pronunciation requires 5 syllables.)
Apart from that, I intentionally went straightforward on the cult surrounding the quantity 23, for instance, and left a bunch of numerology and non secular interpretations for anyone else to ponder. That’s one other e-book all by itself.

6. What’s the reply to life, the universe and every thing? 🙂

Why it’s 42, in fact. , I had already answered query #3 above earlier than I noticed this one!

7. What’s your favourite quantity and why?

After I began the e-book, 17 had the sting. To begin with, “At 17” by Janis Ian might be my favourite tune of all time. It got here out in 1975, which was my favourite music yr of all time. (Maybe I ought to have written it in 1975.) However 17 is known in arithmetic for Carl Friedrich Gauss’s well-known straightedge-and-compass building of an everyday 17-gon, for the 17 “wallpaper” symmetries of the airplane, and for the truth that for those who join 17 suitably spaced dots with a section of pink, blue, or inexperienced, you’ll mechanically create a “monochromatic” triangle whose three vertices are among the many unique 17 dots. And no one has but created a solvable Sudoku puzzle with fewer than 17 unique entries. How about that?

However by the point I completed Quantity Freak, my favourite quantity had turn out to be 36. What occurred is that whereas doing analysis for the e-book I got here throughout a conjecture from the 18th century known as the 36 Officer Drawback. I had by no means heard of it earlier than (yet one more instance!), maybe as a result of the issue was resolved within the early twentieth century after which ceased to be of curiosity. However there was a three-dimensional wrinkle to the issue that hadn’t been explored, and I used that wrinkle to design a puzzle with a grey base and 36 towers of assorted colours. I went to Toy Honest and confirmed the puzzle to ThinkFun, an important sport and puzzle firm out of Alexandria, Virginia. And guess what? They made me a deal for the puzzle and after a yr tinkering with the fundamental mannequin, they launched it as “36 Dice” within the fall of 2008—many months earlier than Quantity Freak got here out! I used to be thrilled that the teachings of the e-book got here to life in such a tangible method, so I’d be mendacity if I didn’t admit that 36 holds a really particular place in my coronary heart.

Thanks very a lot, Derrick, on your insightful solutions. And to our readers, for those who haven’t already achieved so, take a look at his e-book.