The Mathematical Ninja’s Topological Takedown

"THIS." spat the Mathematical Ninja, "IS. THE. WORST. ARTICLE. I'VE. EVER. SEEN." It's a bad sign when the Mathematical Ninja starts talking in single-word sentences. I handed him an espresso.

"What's wrong with it?" I asked. "I've not read it."

"You don't want to!" said the Mathematical Ninja, slightly mollified. "Here, let me give a summary of what's wrong with it."

  • The first line: 'Math nerds, hold on to your protractors.' It's a sodding topology article. Topologists don't need no stinking protractors. It's like starting a cricket article with "Sports fans, hold on to your golf clubs."
  • The second line. The author clearly couldn't be bothered to check the spelling of Königsberg/Koenigsberg, nor to figure out that Königsberg was a Prussian city. It's now in Russia, but it's called Kaliningrad.
  • The third line. The Seven Bridges problem hasn't had people scratching their heads for centuries, any more than any other impossible puzzle. It's literally the first thing you learn about in topology and graph theory, because it's one of the first puzzles that was studied and solved using them.
  • The second paragraph is better. Not good, but better. I could argue the toss about whether Euler made the bridges famous, or if Euler tackled them because they were famous, but I'll let it slide. There's worse to come.
  • Paragraph three? Terrible. In a strictly technical sense, yes, Euler did believe it couldn't be done. He proved it, too. That kind of superceded the need for belief. Also, pro tip: when paraphrasing something you go on to quote, be sure to use different words.
  • The Google doesn't come off terribly well here, either. 'Nonresolution' may, just about, be a correct description of what Euler did - proving there was no solution - and in a sense, he did pave the way for graph theory and topology, by inventing the bloody things. (In fairness to Google, some of the context was removed from the quote; I'd have been livid if someone had made me sound that stupid.)
  • Optimal driving routes? Yep, true. Some of Euler's findings are, indeed, used in that. BECAUSE HE INVENTED MODERN MATHEMATICS. Pretty much anything you do in the modern world involves something you can trace back to Euler.
  • Finally, a paragraph that calmed me down a bit: a direct quote from the Google, actually based in fact. Full marks on use of the ctrl-c and ctrl-v keys.
  • And then… something I didn't know! Two of the seven bridges were destroyed in World War Two. Obviously, the article doesn't pick up the important thing about this: that you now CAN cross each bridge exactly once. Talk about burying the lede.
  • The last paragraph… oh God, make it stop. If it made any kind of grammatical sense, I might have let it pass. Or if it had any relevance at all to the article. No, it was a caption on the Google blog thrown in for local colour... and turned into some sort of hacky non-conclusion to the article.

The Mathematical Ninja slumped over the desk, exhausted.

"More coffee?" I said.

"Love some."

Google's original post is a bit less irritating - although don't let the Mathematical Ninja see the final paragraph of that one, either.


Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.


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