Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Empty and Full (06/04/09)
- TITLE: Who Is It?
By Noel Mitaxa
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What a waste! What was I thinking? This poisonous mantra echoed through George Danzig’s mind all night long, as despair, frustration and anxiety kept their vigil, defying any relaxation that dared to undermine their vice-like grip.
A few fitful naps during this nocturnal ordeal had not prepared him for somebody yelling out his name, and apparently trying to wreck his front door! He shuffled himself together, wondered his way doorwards through the piercing glare of Sunday morning’s early light. And reached for the handle…
But let’s rewind a few days - or decades ... ...
George’s mind had been mathematically and methodically packed to capacity during his years at Stanford. Yet now, against the current of emotional and intellectual draining that final exams thrive on, an irrational surge of hope was being birthed.
Hope came in microscopically-thin servings during those Depression years of the early thirties. No-one seemed immune from joining ever-lengthening unemployment lines, for the bleak horizon allowed no holes for anyone’s ambition to punch through!
George’s preparation had overruled punctuality, so he reached the room for his final exam well after everyone else had started. Never having been top of the class, he did not expect any special treatment.
Creeping to his desk, he sat down. Reading the test paper, he quickly re-entered his familiar world, flowing through the formulae and unlocking each question’s secrets.
Having finished ahead of time, he glanced up. With dismay, for he suddenly noticed two more problems on the blackboard!
He wrote them down and got to work. The first made no sense at all, so he switched to the second. It soon rang up the same “No Sale!” sign despite his efforts. Back to the first; and then back to the second; as time began to run out.
A sports writer would probably describe what followed as a series of elimination wrestling rounds. "Danzig saw off all eight challengers in turn. You wouldn’t believe how a nerd could topple all of those athletes, but he did! With almost mathematical precision!
"But now he was suddenly up against the most highly-skilled two-man tag-team in the nation - and he had to pin them both! He almost nailed one with a submission-hold, but the other one kept skipping and smirking around him: too light, too quick and too slippery to catch! In the end he just ran out of time." (I can almost hear the sports editor groaning at the caption on the accompanying photo: “Dancing around Danzig!”)
Time was gone, but as he approached the invigilator’s table to hand in his work, he sensed a small crack in one of those problems. Knowing he had nothing to lose, he asked for extra time to complete them, but he failed to detect the smile in the professor’s reply: “Well yes, but only until Saturday night!”
Other students were already planning subdued parties or post-mortems, but George rushed home to launch himself into his critical opportunity.
More cramming. Yet after agonising hours of feverish calculations he could manage only one solution. The other stayed completely out of reach.
As Saturday night came he handed in his efforts with almost palpable despair. He knew there were absolutely no job prospects. Ninety-percent success would normally clear that hurdle; but not then, and not for him!
Where could you find a party – or a good post-mortem – when you needed one? ... ... ...
But now in the morning brightness at the doorway; and rubbing his sore knuckles; his professor was eyeing George with major-league excitement!
"You've made mathematics history!” he shouted. “Remember how you were late for your examination?" George was not convinced that he had personally invented lateness for tests, but he let his visitor continue: “You missed my telling the class: ‘We know it’s hard out there, but some things have absolutely no answers, like these two classic problems on the blackboard!’
”You’ve made mathematics history because you’ve solved one of those problems!”
George Danzig’s confidence suddenly returned. He accepted the professor’s invitation to join Stanford University’s mathematics faculty, where he stayed to carve out a life-long career and build an international reputation... ... ...
Persistence surely pays; but it may also help if opportunity is knocking and you don’t complain about the noise ...
While this story is true, it is colored by my personal ‘spin’-sights into Danzig’s thought processes.
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