Anastasatos’ Conjecture

I got an email message from Basileios Anastasatos, a computer science student at the University of Saarland with an interesting conjecture. Erdos liked to quote Renyi’s maxim: “A mathematician is a machine for converting coffee into theorems.” In German this would sound: Ein Mathematiker ist eine Maschine, die Kaffee in Satze verwandelt.” This version hides a wonderful pun, which made Anastasatos conjecture that Renyi formulated his maxim in German. Satz=Kaffeesatz is the coffee residue left at the bottom of your cup, and the word “zacc” has the same meaning in Hungarian. On the other hand, Satz=Lehrsatz simply means theorem. But not in Hungarian, unfortunately.

I am afraid that the Anastasatos conjecture is false. Most likely, Renyi formulated his maxim in Hungarian. He and Erdos would have been very proud and happy to discover this lucky coincidence. Both of them, not to mention Paul Turan, just loved wordplays.

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One Response to Anastasatos’ Conjecture

  1. BoughtMyPoints says:

    I think the answer lies somewhere between. Both men were fluent in German and would automatically get the allusion from “zacc” to “Satz(e)”, if indeed Renyi did first make the quip in Magyar rather than Deutsch. My money says he spoke it in typisch Wienerisch!

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