April Fool?

March 26, 2009

We lived in the UK for a long time and were regular readers of the Guardian newspaper. I still remember their wonderfully elaborate April Fools joke in 1977 when they published an entire lift-out supplement on the fictional islands of San Serif.  


This hoax was so successful, it has been reused a number of time over for other April Fool’s jokes. See the Museum of Hoaxes article for details,

I (like many others) assume that the IKEA car, the Leko which is due for unveiling on the 1st of April is also an April Fool’s hoax.  Let’s hope it is memorable.


In passing, I have been introduced to an extraordinary man – Donald Knuth. Knuth is clearly a brilliant mathematician and computer scientist. I had vaguely heard of him in connection with computer publishing and typesetting but hadn’t realised the full extent of his interests. Relevant to the San Serif hoax, Knuth is responsible for the Bank of San Serif which lists the fictional credits made to people who spot typographical errors in his books. He used to pay a finders fee of a hexadecimal dollar (256 cents) but has stopped doing so to protect his bank account details.

Aside from books and papers on serious computer topics,  Knuth has also written an article on the complexity of song. Deriving mathematical formulae for the degree of repetition of words and refrains in popular song. He writes “It is known that almost all songs of length n require a text of length ~ n. But this puts a considerable space requirement on one’s memory if many songs are to be learned; hence, our ancient ancestors invented the concept of a refrain. When the song has a refrain, its space complexity can be reduced to cn, where c < 1”. He then goes on to derive formula for songs with repetition such as Old Macdonald Had a Farm and  The Twelve Days of Christmas.

The full article can be found at The Complexity of Song

This is a slightly more academic approach to the subject of mathematics and music than my previous post and probably worthy of Tom Lehrer.


One Response to “April Fool?”

  1. […] questions remains though. Why and who is paying? Unlike the April Fool’s jokes I wrote about in April (when else?) which were advertising stunts, there seems no obvious […]

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