The Unsolvable Math Problem

There is an interesting web site called “Urban Legends” that attempts to provide the facts around true or false myths.  The following is one of those legends that proved to be true.  It occured in 1939 at the University of California at Berkeley.

A young college student was working hard in an upper-level math course, for fear that he would be unable to pass. On the night before the final, he studied so long that he overslept the morning of the test.

When he ran into the classroom several minutes late, he found three equations written on the blackboard. The first two went rather easily, but the third one seemed impossible. He worked frantically on it — just ten minutes short of the deadline — he found a method that worked, and he finished the problems just as time was called.

The student turned in his test paper and left. That evening he received a phone call from his professor. “Do you realize what you did on the test today?” he shouted at the student.

“Oh, no,” thought the student. I must not have gotten the problems right after all.

“You were only supposed to do the first two problems,” the professor explained. “That last one was an example of an equation that mathematicians since Einstein have been trying to solve without success. I discussed it with the class before starting the test. And you just solved it!”

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