Adventure Janet

Math Hats


We’ll return to travel-related anecdotes shortly, but this was too important not to share.

So I’m married to a mathematician, and have spent the past 10 or so years hearing all about the great numbersmiths of yore and nodding along politely. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about, for example, Leonhard Euler (specifically, that his name is pronounced ‘oiler’).

But then I came across this picture.

Which prompted the following exchange with my husband.

He then shared a series of pictures of questionably-hatted Great Mathematicians. And that’s how I learned that Mike’s been holding out on me this whole time. It turns out that with one exception, all mathematicians ever have sucked at wearing things on their heads.

Here’s Gauss, famously the last person to know all of math as it was known at the time. Unfortunately, I gather, he wasn’t sure what to do with the bag his whisky came in. (Many of us can relate.)

Here’s Fibonacci, who introduced the strangely beautiful Fibonacci sequence to Western audiences. His affinity for order & beauty did not extend to his headgear, which seems to have been an early inspiration for Euler’s boxers.

There’s an entire sub-genre of mathematicians who forgot to take off their swim caps before heading back to the office.

Unsurprisingly, Leibniz (L) > Newton (R) in every respect including wig fabulousness. Neither, however, could top their spherical Scottish contemporary, Colin Maclaurin. I’d suggest that this crushing failure could explain a lot about Newton’s famous eccentricity.


It would appear that David Hilbert picked up on the efforts of his many forebears and weighed in with this respectable contribution.

But only one mathematician perfected the art of cranial adornment. Just look at that ribbon, those jaunty flowers, those exquisite Princess Leia buns. There’s even a veil cascading from this masterpiece, daring the eye to drift away from the top of Our Queen’s brilliant head. This is Ada Lovelace: mathematician, writer, only legitimate child of Lord Byron, first computer programmer, and goddess. She puts Leonhard Euler’s head-boxers to shame.

Maybe someday I’ll forgive Mike for keeping all this from me for so long. It appears to have been an honest, if egregious, mistake. And if there’s a mathematician in your life who’s been likewise shielding you from The Hats, I’m sorry you had to find out this way.