Tag: love

A Love of Numbers

Have you ever heard about the sculptor that fell in love with one of his creations? It’s perhaps more common than you’d guess. For example, there was a baker who fell in love with her gingerbread recipe. She built an entire house out of gingerbread so that she would never be separated from her dearest love. It didn’t turn out well.

Luckily, this story is not about her. Instead, this is the story of a mathematician who fell in love with a math problem. It wasn’t a particularly lovely equation. It wasn’t the theory of relativity or the Pythagorean theorem, or even Euler’s equation.

But it was a fun problem to spend time with. Sometimes it made him laugh out loud. He’d sit on the couch with a pencil and paper, pick a random number and start computing. If it was even, divide it in half. If it was odd, multiply it by three and add one. Repeat with the new number. Eventually, you always, always return to one.

His colleagues didn’t understand. “Isn’t it a little odd to spend all your free time with that one problem? You aren’t going anywhere or learning anything new.”

“And yet no one knows if there’s an exception to the rule. Isn’t that mysterious? Maybe I’ll stumble across it someday. It would be like the discovery of penicillin. I wouldn’t want to miss out on that because I stopped looking.”

His friends didn’t understand. “Why are you spending so much time writing down that whatever-it-is? You should spend time with us. We’re your real friends, not that stuff.”

“The Collatz conjecture has never let me down,” he protested. “It’s always there for me. It’s dependable and loyal, and yet it still surprises me along the way. What else would I want from a friend?”

“But can the Collatz conjecture make you chicken noodle soup when you’re sick?” they asked.

“No, but I can buy soup at the store. Where can you buy loyalty?”

His mother didn’t understand. “But darling, numbers can’t listen to your problems. Aren’t you lonely?”

The mathematician sighed. “Numbers are excellent listeners. They never interrupt, and they are very reassuring. The Collatz conjecture constantly tells me that everything will work out in the end. It’s always there for me. How could I be lonely?”

His dog didn’t understand. It was jealous of the numbers and tried to eat them up. He didn’t have a dog for long. Luckily, it was much happier living with his mother, anyway.

And while the mathematician grew old, his beloved Collatz conjecture remained timeless and constant. One day, the mathematician had to face the facts. Someday, he would die, and his favorite math problem would go on without him, and it wouldn’t miss him at all.

He looked down at his most recent string of numbers and sighed. How loyal was something that didn’t really recognize your existence to begin with? His love for the Collatz conjecture was one-sided.

The mathematician looked around at his empty house. He contemplated his empty calendar. He looked down at the page full of numbers. “Collatz conjecture,” he said sadly. “I will always love you, but I don’t think this is going to work. Can we remain friends?”

And the mathematician, older and wiser, learned that being friends with people was rewarding in ways that being friends with a math problem was not. Even if sometimes it was more difficult and confusing. Luckily, the Collatz conjecture was still there to reassure and console him when times were tough.

He lived happily ever after. Unlike that poor baker. I won’t say that math is always superior to baking, but in this case, maybe it is.

Charlie’s Room: Secret Ingredient

There was an oatmeal raisin cookie on a brightly-colored plate waiting on the counter when Isaac returned from his walk. Just one cookie? How odd. Where did the cookie come from?

Charlie hurried into the kitchen. “Dad! You’re home! We saved you one of the cookies from Miss Marta. Mom ate most of them.”

Marianne joined them. “They taste just like the cookies my grandma used to make. It was like I was sitting at her kitchen table again. I have to get the recipe! Charlie, do you want to come?”

They left, and Isaac picked up the cookie. He wasn’t an expert, but the cookie looked normal. He tasted it. It was a nice cookie, but not as good as his grandmother’s gingersnaps. Of course, few things were.

The empty plate sat on the counter looking brightly colored and empty. Isaac sighed. It would have been nice to eat a second one. Maybe Marianne would bake some after she returned with the recipe.

She did. After taking a bite of one of the cookies, still warm from the oven, she made a face. “It’s not the same. Did I so something wrong?”

Charlie picked up a cookie and took a bite. “Mmmmm. Cookies.” He wandered out of the room.

Marianne dumped the cooled cookies onto the empty plate and started baking again. She tasted the first cookie from the batch and scowled. The second batch of cookies joined the first batch. Three more batches and the plate was overflowing.

She picked a cookie off the oatmeal raisin mountain and handed it to Isaac. “Taste it,” she ordered.

Isaac bit into the cookie. “It’s not quite as good.”

Marianne began to pace. “It’s missing something. But what? I followed the recipe, and even took into account different techniques and possible variations.” She stopped and looked at Isaac. “There’s only one possibility.”

Charlie dashed into the kitchen and took two cookies, stuck them back-to-back and began eating them like a sandwich. “Don’t mind me,” he said. “I just happened to notice you had a few extra cookies and decided to help.”

Marianne looked at him. “How many cookies have you eaten today?”

Charlie began counting on his fingers and paused. “A lot.”

“No more cookies.”

Charlie frowned. “But you have so many. Are you saving them for something special?”

Marianne shrugged. “I can freeze them and put them in your lunches. I’m sure they’ll freeze well. That’s not the point. If you eat too many cookies, you’ll feel sick. It’s not very healthy.”

Charlie thought for a moment. “Fine.” He stood up and brushed off his shirt. “More for later, right?” He drifted out of the kitchen.

Isaac turned to Marianne. “What’s the one possibility?”

“A secret ingredient! She left something out. Something that makes the cookies extra special. If only I’d asked for grandma’s recipe before she was gone.” Marianne turned an looked at Isaac. “I need to know the secret ingredient. Offer to rake Miss Marta’s leaves or mow her lawn all spring or fix her roof or something.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Isaac could see that this was important to Marianne. Even if oatmeal raisin cookies really weren’t as good as gingersnaps.

So, he went next door and knocked. Miss Marta came to the door. Isaac smiled. “Thanks for the cookies! Marianne loved them. She was so excited to get the recipe and came home and baked them right away.”

Miss Marta nodded. “I’m glad she likes them. They’re an old family recipe.”

A black cat slipped out of Miss Marta’s house and rubbed against Isaac’s ankles. Isaac leaned down to pet it. “I think Marianne’s family used to make them just like yours. Marianne said that when she tried to make them they didn’t taste the same. Is there a secret ingredient?”

“Love.” Miss Marta shrugged. “The secret ingredient is love, but tell her it’s cinnamon.”

“Hmmm. Love tastes like cinnamon?” Isaac shivered as a cold wind tore across the yard. The cat darted back inside.

“Sometimes it does.” Miss Marta gathered her shawl around her. “It depends on the memories.”

“Oh, I’m keeping you, and it’s letting in all the cold air. I’ll let her know. Thank you.” Isaac waved, and Miss Marta closed the door.

Marianne was waiting just inside the door when Isaac arrived home. “Well? What did she say?”

“Cinnamon,” Isaac said, hanging up his coat. “Also think happy thoughts about the people you love.”

“Cinnamon! I should have known.” Marianne hurried away.

“Don’t forget the happy thoughts,” Isaac called after her. “I think it’ll help.”

“I’ll think the happy thoughts,” Marianne called back. “It couldn’t hurt.”

Marianne made another batch of cookies. She taste the first cookie and smiled happily. Then she reached for a second cookie. “Love and cinnamon. I’ll add it to the recipe card.”

Charlie came in. “Are those for my lunches, too?”

“No, these are mine. You have all of those other cookies.” Marianne pointed to the overflowing plate of cookies.

Charlie looked back and forth between the batch of cookies cooling on the rack and the mountain of cookies on the counter. “I guess that’s fair,” he said, and wandered back out.

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