Nhật ký Yale: The kissing number
Kissing Number không biết dịch ra tiếng Việt là gì. Để tránh ảnh hưởng đến thuần phong mỹ tục và qui định của bộ văn hoá, phần lớn bài này sẽ viết bằng tiếng Anh. Nhớ lại những phim chiếu ở VN hồi còn đi học phổ thông, hễ có đoạn nào có thể dẫn đến “kiss” là lập lức có chiếc nón rơi xuống hay đoàn tàu chạy qua. Ngày thường thì tàu trễ đợi thối phổi, đến lúc đấy sao mà lắm tàu thế.
Well, we had a speaker diner last night. It was at Yale faculty club, which is notorious for serving boring food. Anyway, the conversation was good, with lots of interesting stories, including one concerning the famous “kissing number” problem by Newton.
The kissing number is the maximum number of ping pong balls all of which touch the same ping pong ball in the middle. From Newton’s time, there has been a debate about this number being 12 or 13 (it was proved that one of these two should be the correct answer). While one calls this “kissing”, I have no idea, maybe it is the british way. French people would heavily object, though.
It was quite surprising that one had to wait until the 20th century for this seemingly elementary problem to be settled (12 is the correct answer). But the real story is how Newton himself argued that 12 must be the right answer. According to our speaker, his argument was like this: Imagine that the center is God, then he has 12 disciples. Thus, it should be 12. The 13th guy should be devil. Bum !!
The point was that this was dead serious (at least according to our source). While sounded stunning at first, after some thinking one would feel that the story may indeed be even true, considering that Newton spent a considerable amount of his life finding hidden messages in the Bible. As a matter of fact, similar to the Mayan, he did seriously consider the problem when the world would end, and gave a lower bound of 2060. Luckily, no matching upper bound has been proved so far !