The Mathematics of Christmas: A Review of the Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus

By Bonato, Anthony; Mathematics, Professor of et al. | The Canadian Press, December 13, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Mathematics of Christmas: A Review of the Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus


Bonato, Anthony, Mathematics, Professor of, University, Ryerson, The Canadian Press


The mathematics of Christmas: A review of the Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Anthony Bonato, Professor of Mathematics, Ryerson University

How do you prove Santa Claus exists using mathematical logic? What's an optimal algorithm for wrapping Christmas gifts? Does the heat equation give insights on how to best cook a turkey?

These are a few of the questions addressed in the book "The Indisputable Existence of Santa Clause: The Mathematics of Christmas" by Hannah Fry and Thomas Oleron Evans.

The new hardcover edition is out now, just in time for the holidays (the book was first published last year). Both Fry and Evans are mathematicians, and bring an equal measure of rigour and humour to the text. Fry frequently presents on BBC radio and television, working to popularize mathematics. She has a knack for bringing math to the masses: Her TEDx talk on the mathematics of love garnered over four million views.

Mathematics is not necessarily the first thing we think of over the holidays, or even the second, third or nth thing (where n is an arbitrarily large positive integer).

For a decent proportion of the population, equations, calculations and geometry are things to avoid altogether. With all the gift buying, card sending and holiday parties with friends, family and co-workers, math may be the farthest thing from our minds.

Math is everywhere

What the authors set out to do is to glide readers gently towards the deductive, quantitative mindset of a mathematician. They succeed in doing this by breaking the book into bite-sized chapters written in an engaging and accessible fashion. The hardcover edition is petite. It fits nicely in stockings.

The authors also know a trade secret in mathematics: The subject is everywhere. More importantly, math can be downright fun -- if presented in the right way.

The topics are familiar but have a fresh, mathematical take. In one chapter, they tackle the problem of decorating a Christmas tree. Mathematics appears when they compute the optimal length of a garland based on whether the tree is either cylindrical shaped (the easier case) or conical (the tougher but more realistic case).

An application of platonic solids in a step-by-step guide leads to the creation of a 20-pointed stellation of the icosahedron -- in plain language, a pretty, star-like Christmas ornament.

The applications of mathematics to Christmas discussed in the book are diverse -- from the economics of gift buying, to game theory as a strategy for winning at Monopoly, to optimizing ways to cut a cake into even pieces. …

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