In a somewhat lighter vein...
(Poem #601) Hall and Knight
or 'z + b + x = y + b + z' When he was young his cousins used to say of Mr Knight: 'This boy will write an algebra - or looks as if he might.' And sure enough, when Mr Knight had grown to be a man, He purchased pen and paper and an inkpot, and began. But he very soon discovered that he couldn't write at all, And his heart was filled with yearnings for a certain Mr Hall; Till, after many years of doubt, he sent his friend a card: 'Have tried to write an Algebra, but find it very hard.' Now Mr Hall himself had tried to write a book for schools, But suffered from a handicap: he didn't know the rules. So when he heard from Mr Knight and understood his gist, He answered him by telegram: 'Delighted to assist.' So Mr Hall and Mr Knight they took a house together, And they worked away at algebra in any kind of weather, Determined not to give up until they had evolved A problem so constructed that it never could be solved. 'How hard it is', said Mr Knight, 'to hide the fact from youth That x and y are equal: it is such an obvious truth!' 'It is', said Mr Hall, 'but if we gave a b to each, We'd put the problem well beyond our little victims' reach. 'Or are you anxious, Mr Knight, lest any boy should see The utter superfluity of this repeated b?' 'I scarcely fear it', he replied, and scratched this grizzled head, 'But perhaps it would be safer if to b we added z.' 'A brilliant stroke!', said Hall, and added z to either side; Then looked at his accomplice with a flush of happy pride. And Knight, he winked at Hall (a very pardonable lapse). And they printed off the Algebra and sold it to the chaps.
A hilarious poem - if poets and writers can be immortalised in verse, why not those old tormentors of many a student, Hall and Knight? Commentary is almost superfluous - suffice it to say that I loved the poem, and that 'accomplice' is as perfect a choice of words as any I've seen. Notes: Hall and Knight's "Higher Algebra" is surely one of the most famous (I will not speak for 'best-loved' <g>) mathematics textbooks of all time, second perhaps only to Euclid's Elements in its ubiquity. First published in 1887, it is, as far as I know, still in print (at least in India, where it is published by Deepa and Company ; I could not find a copy on any of the major book sites). The book is a bit dated today, but still well worth a look if only for its historical value. The poem, though, more likely refers to their earlier 'Elementary Algebra for Schools', to which the more famous book was a sequel. 'z' is, of course, pronounced 'zed' throughout.  Both Joyce and Wodehouse, for instance, mention it.  [broken link] http://www.vidyainfo.com/books/BookDetails.asp?cid=279&cbid=1479  and where it is still popular as an excellent source of problems Biography: Couldn't find a proper biography of Rieu online - here're a few snippets I managed to dig up: - He was the founder editor of the Penguin Classics During the blitz in 1940 a Dr E V. Rieu started a new translation on the Homer's Odyssey. This appeared in 1946 as the first Penguin Classic, and enabled those in education to pass examinations and enlightentened those who read for shear pleasure. -- [broken link] http://www.brookes.ac.uk/schools/apm/publishing/culture/1997/keating.html - He was a translator of some note (Homer's 'Odyssey', Virgil's 'Ecologues', Apollonius of Rhodes' 'The Voyage of Argo'). Patrick Kavanagh has written a poem titled "On Looking into E. V. Rieu's Homer" - see [broken link] http://www.ume.maine.edu/~npf/cat10.html - He was a friend of the great science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon The preface to Waking World reveals that Stapledon could accept criticism and was willing to rewrite when necessary, for he twice refers to a rejected earlier version of the book and credits five people for helping him revise it into acceptable shape: these included his wife Agnes; E.V. Rieu, a long-time friend and an editor at Methuen; and Professor L.C. Martin of Liverpool University. -- [broken link] http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Agora/7628/stapledon/bio.html - An sf/f piece, 'The Paint Box' appeared in an anthology titled 'The Unicorn Treasury' - see [broken link] http://www.locusmag.com/index/t117.html#A9659 Links: Here's another poem by Rieu: [broken link] http://www.gulftel.com/thefacks/poem.html And as for Messrs. Hall and Knight, I was amazed at the sheer lack of webpages devoted to them and their minor classic. Even the Britannica is uncharacteristically silent on the subject. Here are a couple I did manage to find: [broken link] http://www.pa.ash.org.au/canberramaths/doks/Ed_Staple's_article.html makes an interesting read, especially if you're mathematically inclined. (Warning - the page displays all the equations as gifs, and takes forever to load) [broken link] http://libweb.princeton.edu:2003/libraries/firestone/rbsc/finding_aids/mathoral/pmc38.htm has a passing reference to an entire course at Princeton (in the 1930s) being based on Hall and Knight. Today's poem forms part of the Mathematical Poetry theme, which began with poem #599 -martin