When I was growing up, an unusual houseguest would show up at our door every few years. With steeply-arched eyebrows, a mile-wide grin, gigantic ears that looked like they could flap in the wind, and a wild tousle of white hair, he seemed to my 8-year-old self to resemble nothing less than an oversized hamster or rabbit. In a distinctive, nasal-whiney voice he would utter words in some unintelligible language that nevertheless seemed related to English. He called me and my brother “epsilons” and spoke of a mysterious food called “pea-napple-uppsheed-did-doven-tosh.” After a couple of weeks, he would disappear as suddenly as he had shown up.
Only years later, as an adult, did I learn that this man was one of the most famous mathematicians in the world: Paul Erdős. Continue reading “The Homeless Mathematician”