Mathematicians who have kicked on

March 1 was International Maths Day. And so my mind was turned to Maths. As a Maths-History graduate I am always looking to those Mathematicians who have kicked on, in the hope I might uncover their secrets.

I’ll start the discussion by mentioning Melbourne Vixen and Australian netballer Julie Corletto, who is a Maths graduate.

And then of course there is P. Flynn RHB, who bats at No. 5 for the Almanac XI.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. From memory, Neale Daniher was in the same classes at Melbourne Uni as my brother, who majored in Maths (and still teaches it).

  2. Andrew Fithall says

    More statistician than mathmatician, but at Melb Uni, one of my IV team mates was Ray Watson. At the time Ray was a lecturer in stats at the Uni but he must have been also enrolled in some dodgy course to qualify to play. Ray is part of the famous Watson basketball family of Melbourne and was coming to the end of his basketball career. He had already represented Australia.

    And #1, I used to borrow N Daniher’s stats lecture notes.

  3. So Gigs,

    does your brother help with your home work these days?

  4. Peter Flynn says

    JP McEnroe was a calculus student at Stanford when he unexpectedly made the ’77 Wimbledon semi-final. He ditched study soon after.

    Coincidentally, Virginia Wade (winner in ’77) majored in maths at Sussex Uni.

    Nasser Hussain has some serious maths credentials from Durham Uni.

    Florence Nightingale was an early adopter of the pie chart.

    CL Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll was a logician and mathematician.

    Art Garfunkel has an MA in maths from Columbia Uni.

    President Garfield discovered a proof of Pythagoras’ theorem prior to living in the White House.

    Adam Spencer has good grounding in pure mathematics.

    #2, Ray Watson is a most reputable textbook contributor in maths education.

    How long will this thread be?

  5. John Butler says

    Flynny, you are always an education. :)

  6. Peter Flynn says

    I neglected to note that Garfunkel is a perfect example of what JTH is looking for.

    He started doctoral studies in mathematics before giving it away for music.

  7. johnharms says

    Red Symons.

    And Nasser was on top of the Maths last night, commentating in the World Cup fixture, while Bumble was on top of the brillaint Lanch-y observation. When Bumble said David Gower reminded him of David Steele the off-mic laughter meter shot through the roof. He was in scintillating form. Odd to be laughing out loud at 2.43am, utterly unable to go to bed. One of the great victories.

    And, while I think of it, the prospect of victory was a deepening hole for Bumble. He had said early on, almost mockingly, that he had been in the hotel dining room with the Irish team. he was having dinner with Beefy. The Irish lads were ‘on it’ I think it would be fair to say. ONe by one the players got up to make inspirational Irish-lost-cause speeches. Bumble said he was completely drawn in by the words and the tone. “I found myself listening. And applauding.”

    I love the Irish. And Bumble.

  8. Peter Flynn says

    In the Ashes summer of 1997, I got to know Jim Wilson who was on assignment for Ch7.

    Bumble was England coach. Jim raved about Bumble. Fantastic bloke. Funny, obliging and kind-hearted. Brilliant after-dinner speaker.

    Under various pseudonyms, Bumble used to send infuriating cricket trivia questions to the late great Bill Frindall.

    The Irish bowled a Guinness-poisoned West Indian line-up for 25 in 1969. A ripping yarn.

  9. Dave Nadel says

    He is not quite the same standard of excellence as some others mentioned in this thread but former sub district cricketer and founder and veteran Reds Cricketer Alec Kahn has a PhD in Mathematics. His fellow Reds cricketers always believed that Alec knew the effect of each run he scored on his long-tern average from the instant he ran the run.

  10. Rick Kane says

    How far can I stretch the original query? This far: from Dlyan’s Tangled Up In Blue

    So now I’m going back again, I got to get to her somehow
    All the people we used to know they’re an illusion to me now

    Some are mathematicians, some are doctor’s wives
    Don’t know how it all got started, don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives

    But me, I’m still on the road, headin’ for another joint
    We always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view
    Tangled up in blue

  11. Peter Flynn says
  12. Rick Kane says

    And beautifully rounded back to the discussion thread Mr Flynn. Great article. Bob’s Xmas record is very good, for a guy whose voice is shot. The song mentioned in the article, Must Be Santa (I would have included a link to You Tube but Sony have exercised their rights and removed it) is hilarious.

    Here are some more well knowns with mathematics form:

    Lewis Carroll
    Teri Hatcher (that’s right, the desparate housewife herself)

    And here are some interesting celebs I came across at the Compterworld website on Geek stars:

    • Larry Linville (Major Burns) studied aeronautical engineering
    • John Astin (Gomez in the original Addams Family patriarch) studied math, not theatre, at Johns Hopkins University
    • Dan Grimaldi (Patsy Parisi, The Sopranos) has a Bachelor of Arts degree in math, a master’s in operations research and a Ph.D. in data processing. He teaches in the math and computer sciences department at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.
    • Hedy Lamarr (Ecstasy, Samson and Delilah) owns us all for her pioneering work on spread spectrum technology, which makes both Ethernet and your cell phone tick.
    • Queen guitarist, Brian May is slated to receive his Ph.D. in astrophysics
    • Tom Lehrer left show business to focus on mathematics; he has a bachelor’s and a master’s in math from Harvard
    • Frank Yappa has an asteroid, various animal species and a bacteria gene named after him, but despite a keen interest in the mathematics of music he was mainly self-taught
    • Danica McKellar (The Wonder Years) clicked with calculus and has co-authored both a statistical mechanics paper that led to getting her name on a theorem (the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem) and a new book for middle schooler called Maths Doesn’t Suck

  13. Dave Nadel says

    #12 Tom Lehrer is a bit different to the other cases though, Rick. He was a Maths professor (at Harvard) before, during and after his show business career. Indeed it is hard to think of any American performer who took his show biz career less seriously, which is probably why he was so good!

  14. Rick Kane says

    True Dave. He is the guy who established the template for the ironic song and set the bar (way too high for most comics who mistake irony for parody)and walked away before the fall.


  15. Peter Flynn says

    R Kane,


  16. dave latham says

    Wittgenstein and Russell went okay.

    Marcel Duchamp went on to become a chess flooz after a brief stint in the art world.

  17. Tony Robb says

    A late contri but I beleive the Mosquito Fleet from the 80s at Carlton were able to play football while onserving and calculating the odds at the melbourne races off the scoreboard. Not to mention getting rugular updates via the runner during play
    That’s clever

  18. Damo Balassone says

    Omar Khayyam

    # 10 Rick:

    Great Dylan get, though strangely he changed “mathemeticians” to “ministers of illusion” on the rewritten live version – though I imagine Dylan probably has a thousand different versions of every song he has ever written.

  19. Peter Flynn says


    There is no better way to improve numeracy skills.

  20. #2. Andrew, if you borrowed N Daniher’s stats lecture notes, this would imply that you and my brother must have come cose to crossing paths at some point. My brother was at Melbourne Uni from ’79 to ’81. Mind you, he was pretty quiet…

    Any vague recollection of another Gigacz in your past? (Perhaps you’ve supressed the memories…)

    #3. Phantom. Rarely. But I do recall asking him some years ago about the correct formula for calculating the probability of a Collingwood member getting a ticket to the GF via their complicated ballot system.

  21. Peter Flynn says



  22. #21. Thanks, PJF. Just the sort of definitive answer I’d expect from a mathematician.

  23. johnharms says

    The ancient lady – Dot – who runs the newsagency up the road (you have to see it to believe it) was cockatoo in these very streets for all those enterprises which require cockatoos. (She was occasionally seconded to Gertrude ST) But especially she was a cockatoo for the SP in the baker’s lane. (I’d have loved that: “Just going up for a loaf of bread dear.”)I suspect the SP in the baker’s lane was a close relative.

    She said to me once, with no sense of revisionism, “I knew my four times tables before I went to school”.

    I love it. Imagine going up the road to St Joseph’s Convent where Sister Boniface had a calss room of five eyar olds who could tell you what 5 shillings each wy at 15/8 was. I so much wannabe Catholic.

    Dot has a few tried and tested aphorisms (tried and tested over the last 80 years). Whenever Collingwood loses, she says (without fail), “Special edition of the Sun today.”

    “Really?” I say.

    “Yes, she says, “It’s got a recipe for Magpie pie.”

  24. dave latham says

    #23 I’ve used my calculator to conclude you’ve had 5-8 beverages at lunch?

  25. johnharms says


    Are you inviting punters to guess what digit is represented by the dash, or is that 5 to 8, as in between 5 and 8?

    This is just how we live around here. Dot is real.

  26. johnharms says

    Edwin Moses had Maths in his degree – he is an engineer. What I like about Moses is that he went to Uni and THEN became a top athlete.

  27. Rick Kane says

    re #13 Dave, speaking of Tom Lehrer, here’s the lyrics to his song New Math from 1965:

    Some of you who have small children may have perhaps been put in the embarrassing position of being unable to do your child’s arithmetic homework because of the current revolution in mathematics teaching known as the New Math.

    So as a public service here tonight I thought I would offer a brief lesson in the New Math. Tonight we’re going to cover subtraction. This is the first room I’ve worked for a while that didn’t have a blackboard so we will have to make due with more primitive visual aids, as they say in the “ed biz.”

    Consider the following subtraction problem, which I will put up here: 342 – 173.

    Now remember how we used to do that. three from two is nine; carry the one, and if you’re under 35 or went to a private school you say seven from three is six, but if you’re over 35 and went to a public school you say eight from four is six; carry the one so we have 169, but in the new approach, as you know, the
    important thing is to understand what you’re doing rather than to get the right answer.

    Here’s how they do it now.

    You can’t take three from two,
    Two is less than three,
    So you look at the four in the tens place.
    Now that’s really four tens,
    So you make it three tens,
    Regroup, and you change a ten to ten ones,
    And you add them to the two and get twelve,
    And you take away three, that’s nine.
    Is that clear?

    Now instead of four in the tens place
    You’ve got three,
    ‘Cause you added one,
    That is to say, ten, to the two,
    But you can’t take seven from three,
    So you look in the hundreds place.

    From the three you then use one
    To make ten ones…
    (And you know why four plus minus one
    Plus ten is fourteen minus one?
    ‘Cause addition is commutative, right.)
    And so you have thirteen tens,
    And you take away seven,
    And that leaves five…

    Well, six actually.
    But the idea is the important thing.

    Now go back to the hundreds place,
    And you’re left with two.
    And you take away one from two,
    And that leaves…?

    Everybody get one?
    Not bad for the first day!

    Hooray for new math,
    It won’t do you a bit of good to review math.
    It’s so simple,
    So very simple,
    That only a child can do it!
    Now that actually is not the answer that I had in mind, because the book that I got this problem out of wants you to do it in base eight. But don’t panic. Base eight is just like base ten really – if you’re missing two fingers. Shall we have a go at it? Hang on.

    You can’t take three from two,
    Two is less than three,
    So you look at the four in the eights place.
    Now that’s really four eights,
    So you make it three eights,
    Regroup, and you change an eight to eight ones,
    And you add them to the two,
    and you get one-two base eight,
    Which is ten base ten,
    And you take away three, that’s seven. Ok?

    Now instead of four in the eights place
    You’ve got three,
    ‘Cause you added one,
    That is to say, eight, to the two,
    But you can’t take seven from three,
    So you look at the sixty-fours.

    “Sixty-four? How did sixty-four get into it?” I hear you cry.
    Well, sixty-four is eight squared, don’t you see?
    (Well, you ask a silly question, and you get a silly answer.)

    From the three you then use one
    To make eight ones,
    And you add those ones to the three,
    And you get one-three base eight,
    Or, in other words,
    In base ten you have eleven,
    And you take away seven,
    And seven from eleven is four.
    Now go back to the sixty-fours,
    And you’re left with two,
    And you take away one from two,
    And that leaves…?

    Now, let’s not always see the same hands.
    One, that’s right!
    Whoever got one can stay after the show and clean the erasers.

    Hooray for new math,
    It won’t do you a bit of good to review math.
    It’s so simple,
    So very simple,
    That only a child can do it!

    Come back tomorrow night. We’re gonna do fractions. Now I’ve often thought I’d like to write a mathematics text book someday because I have a title that I know will sell a million copies. I’m gonna call it Tropic Of Calculus.

  28. Rick Kane says

    I could keep on keepin on with song lyrics re maths. I’ll resist that urge, and just throw out a couple of titles:

    Multiplication by Bobby Darin
    When Numbers Get Serious by Paul Simon
    and the great Jimmy Buffett and his song, Math Sucks

    However it would be remiss of me not to close with lyrics from Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World:

    Don’t know nothin’ ’bout geography
    Don’t know much trigonometry
    Don’t know nothin’ ’bout algebra
    don’t know what this slide rule is for
    But I do know one and one is two
    And I know that if you love me too
    What a wonderful world this would be

    Go Sam you old souls singing smoothy.

  29. Peter Flynn says



    Essentially there are two subtraction algorithms. The algorithm the teacher uses is the one they learnt. Makes sense.

    Lehrer’s New Math approach is the decomposition algorithm. I learnt this algorithm in 1975.

    Later, I was amazed to discover that this was not the only way. The other algorithm is the equal additions algorithm.

    In the equal additions algorithm, 342-173 becomes 3 hundreds 14 tens and 12 ones minus 2 hundreds 8 tens and 3 ones. If you add a ten to the bottom number (subtrahend) you add 10 ones to the top number (minuend). If you add a hundred to the bottom number, you add 10 tens to the top number.

    When teaching pre-service teachers, I’ll ask a student to come up and show the others how they would do such a question.

    The question is then posed to the others. Is that how you do it?

    It’s a classic. Generally, exponents of the decomposition algorithm (~75%) have no idea how the equal addition algorithm works and vice versa.

  30. Dave Nadel says

    #27 Rick I loved Lehrer’s New Math but he had another Mathematical song I loved even more – Lobachevski. In the late sixties I knew the lyrics by heart and would sing the song after a few drinks. Forty years later I have had to pinch the lyrics from another website, which seems appropriate, given the song.

    For many years now, Mr. Danny Kaye, who has been my particular idol since childbirth, has been doing a routine about the great Russian director Stanislavsky and the secret of success in the acting profession. And I thought it would be interesting to stea… to adapt this idea to the field of mathematics. I always like to make explicit the fact that before I went off not too long ago to fight in the trenches, I was a mathematician by profession. I don’t like people to get the idea that I have to do this for a living. I mean, it isn’t as though I had to do this, you know, I could be making, oh, 3000 dollars a year just teaching.

    Be that as it may, some of you may have had occasion to run into mathematicians and to wonder therefore how they got that way, and here, in partial explanation perhaps, is the story of the great Russian mathematician Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky.

    Who made me the genius I am today,
    The mathematician that others all quote,
    Who’s the professor that made me that way?
    The greatest that ever got chalk on his coat.

    One man deserves the credit,
    One man deserves the blame,
    And Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.
    Nicolai Ivanovich Lobach-

    I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.
    In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics:

    Let no one else’s work evade your eyes,
    Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
    So don’t shade your eyes,
    But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize –
    Only be sure always to call it please ‘research’.

    And ever since I meet this man
    My life is not the same,
    And Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.
    Nicolai Ivanovich Lobach-

    I am never forget the day I am given first original paper
    to write. It was on analytic and algebraic topology of
    locally Euclidean parameterization of infinitely differentiable
    Riemannian manifold.
    Bozhe moi!
    This I know from nothing.
    What-i’m going-to do.
    But I think of great Lobachevsky and get idea – ahah!

    I have a friend in Minsk,
    Who has a friend in Pinsk,
    Whose friend in Omsk
    Has friend in Tomsk
    With friend in Akmolinsk.
    His friend in Alexandrovsk
    Has friend in Petropavlovsk,
    Whose friend somehow
    Is solving now
    The problem in Dnepropetrovsk.

    And when his work is done –
    Ha ha! – begins the fun.
    From Dnepropetrovsk
    To Petropavlovsk,
    By way of Iliysk,
    And Novorossiysk,
    To Alexandrovsk to Akmolinsk
    To Tomsk to Omsk
    To Pinsk to Minsk
    To me the news will run,
    Yes, to me the news will run!

    And then I write
    By morning, night,
    And afternoon,
    And pretty soon
    My name in Dnepropetrovsk is cursed,
    When he finds out I publish first!

    And who made me a big success
    And brought me wealth and fame?
    Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.
    Nicolai Ivanovich Lobach –

    I am never forget the day my first book is published.
    Every chapter I stole from somewhere else.
    Index I copy from old Vladivostok telephone directory.
    This book was sensational!
    Pravda – well, Pravda – Pravda said: “Zhil-bil korol kogda-to, pree nyom blokha zhila”[1] It stinks.
    But Izvestia! Izvestia said: “Ya idoo kuda sam czar idyot peshkom!”[2]
    It stinks.
    Metro-Goldwyn-Moskva buys movie rights for six million rubles,
    Changing title to ‘The Eternal Triangle’,
    With Brigitte Bardot playing part of hypotenuse.

    And who deserves the credit?
    And who deserves the blame?
    Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.

  31. Rick Kane says

    re #29, Mr Flynn: Thank you for the Maths lesson. Very impressive and over my head! However, I should make the point that when Springsteen sung, “I learnt more from a 3 minute record than I ever learnt at school” he was talking to me and Maths.

    re #30, great song Dave. In fact this thread has reminded me to pull out Lehrer’s stuff and give it another listen. I did that, by the way, to Danny Kaye last year and it really held up.

    Lehrer certainly knows a punch-line and his line, “Changing the title to ‘The Eternal Triangle’,with Brigitte Bardot playing part of hypotenuse” is one of his finest.

    Finally, re #23, 25: JTH, I can also vouch for the mysterious truth that is Dot. She is real. And her newsagency does have to be seen to be believed.


  32. Damo Balassone says

    Rick, Peter et al,

    Thought you might appreciate this:

  33. Alovesupreme says

    John #23,#26,
    I’m not sure that all of us who belonged to the One True Faith had grasped our “times tables” pre-school. Perhaps I was a late developer, I had my first bet aged 7 (obviously with the local SP, who coupled his fielding duties with running a milk-bar, general store, newsagency in our little hamlet).
    I’m a little surprised at your commendation of Edwin Moses’ chronological progression – academic achievement preceding his athletics career. This seems to run counter to one of your approving anecdotes about a fellow student at UQ who you described as being about half-way through his philosophy (?) degree, that is in his fifth year (iirc). If Edwin M. had proceeded at that pace, he would have been eligible for the seniors’ circuit by the time he graduated.

  34. Tim Ivins says

    For those who are interested, footage of the West Indies performance in 1969 can be found at

    For those mathematically minded, was the fall of the 9th wicket at the lowest total ever?

  35. Peter Flynn says

    Thanks Damo,

    Really interesting.


    In Test cricket it is:

    25, Australia (44) v England, The Oval 1896

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