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November 13, 2006

Puzzle #6

Posted by John Baez

Which famous buildings were named after a form of food - or was it the other way around? Posted at November 13, 2006 7:44 AM UTC

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Re: Puzzle #6

As an addendum in a similar vein, how many mathematicians have names derived from food? I suppose the question could be posed for physicists and philosophers as well, but I don’t know any interesting examples offhand.

Posted by: John Armstrong on November 13, 2006 1:49 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #6

Hint: what Egyptian building has a mysteriously Greek name?

For the addendum, there’s Charles Pfefferman, Gregg Zuckerman, and David Saltman…

Posted by: Allen Knutson on November 13, 2006 2:27 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #6

Actually, Zuckerman was one of the ones I was thinking of. There’s another here at Yale that’s harder to figure out, though.

Posted by: John Armstrong on November 13, 2006 6:43 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #6

Or rather, Fefferman. (Though still “derived from”.)

Posted by: Allen Knutson on November 13, 2006 2:30 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #6

The tower of Pizza? :-)

Rats, no plural there.

Posted by: dileffante on November 13, 2006 2:47 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #6

Well, Allen essentially gave it away. As for mathematicians named after food - does Poisson count?

Q: Which famous buildings were named after a form of food - or was it the other way around?

A: The pyramids. The ancient Greeks used the word “pyramid” both for the Egyptian pyramids and to a kind of cake made out of roasted wheat. It appears that when the Greeks went to Egypt, they gave the buildings this name because they were shaped like the cake. (Some argue it was the other way around, but that wouldn’t be so interesting.)

Source: Steven Schwartzman, The Words of Mathematics, Mathematical Association of America, Washington DC, 1994.

Also, the 1970 Encyclopaedia Brittanica write:

The ancient Egyptian term for pyramid is mer. The English word pyramid comes from the Greek pyramid, plural pyramides, a word of doubtful etymology that was thought to have been derived from the ancient Egyptian per-em-us, a term used in a mathematical papyrus to denote the vertical height of a pyramid. A purely Greek word pyramis means “wheaten cake”, and a vague resemblance in shape may have prompted early Greeks to use it as a facetious designation of the celebrated Egyptian monuments.

Posted by: John Baez on November 13, 2006 5:15 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #6

Sure Poisson counts. The more of these you see the more striking it is that there’s so much food hidden in surnames.

Posted by: John Armstrong on November 13, 2006 6:44 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #6

About the question of why such cakes were called “pyramids” in first place, I think that the translation to “wheaten cake” was in dispute, as Schwartzman hints.

Posted by: A. Rivero on November 14, 2006 5:52 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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