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Funny story about bumblebee puzzle

Warning: I have no idea if this story is true--it's something I once heard from a math professor.

Ramanujan, the brilliant Indian number theorist from the 19th century, was almost entirely self-taught. The only thing he had resembling a standard formal education was a correspondence with the Swiss methematician Euler, who filled in the gaps in Ramanujan's self-education--he only needed to teach him things that normally would have been in an advanced graduate course in mathematics.

Ramanujan had very poor health (he died quite young), and near the end of his life, Euler came to visit him at a sanatorium. He would often bring mathematical puzzles and oddities he had found to cheer Ramanujan up. On this occasion, he gave Ramanujan the bumblebee puzzle.

"...So," he concluded, "how far did the bumblebee travel?"

Without missing a beat, Ramanujan replied, "1000 miles."

Euler, needless to say, was impressed. He was amazed Ramanujan had seen the trick so quickly; as he pointed out, most people would have assumed they needed to sum the series.

"But I *did* sum the series," was Ramanujan's puzzled reply.

Avrom Roy-Faderman
Monday, October 11, 2004

A great story but Euler died a century before Ramanujan was born.

Jason R
Monday, October 25, 2004

Oh, so that's the funny part.




Just kidding.

JHY
Monday, October 25, 2004

Oops. So, there are two possibilities:

1) The story my professor told was not only false, but wildly impossible.
2) I misremembered who the mathematicians in the story were--although I'm pretty sure about Ramanujan.

Avrom Roy-Faderman
Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Probably Hardy, who was Ramanujan's mentor and visited him frequently in hospital.

David Clayworth
Monday, November 01, 2004

That story is attributed more commonly to Euler himself, and sometimes Gauss.  So it is certainly apocryphal.

horace
Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The version I heard was a bunch of physicists posing the problem to John von Neumann, who answered as Ramanujan is supposed to have.

jaoswald
Thursday, November 18, 2004

It's also attributed to Feynman

Brian
Thursday, December 09, 2004

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