RSG: I’m interviewing Professor Karlheinz von Phulstrup of Harvard University’s Department Of Abstract Mathematics. Doctor von Phulstrup has dedicated his life to the study of integers and recently announced a large breakthrough. Doctor, can you quickly remind our readers what an ”integer” is?
KvP: I’d rather not.
RSG: OK. Well, as I recall, an integer is a number like 1, 7, or 272. A numeral that has no digits to the right of the decimal point.
KvP: No decimal. That’s the point.
RSG: Heh, heh, nice one. I see what you did there. Now can you describe your discovery in a way the layman can understand?
KvP: Probably not.
RSG: Come on, Professor. This is Harvard. Give it the old college try.
KvP (sighs): An integer is a whole number. That don’t mean it’s got a hole in it. It ain’t a donut, it’s a number. An integer don’t have any fractional parts. Not like a donut that you took a bite out. Fractional parts are those little twiddly bits to the right of the decimal. They called rational numbers, but I never seen it that way. I prefer integers because they well behaved.
RSG: Not like “Pi?” Pi goes on forever, right?
KvP: Not if it’s Apple Pie – that goes right down the pie hole.
RSG: Heh, heh. That’s a good one.
KvP: PI’s irrational. Completely meshugah. Listen: 3.14159--
RSG: Yes. The area of a circle is Pi r-squared, right?
KvP: Not the kind I eat. Here’s some more digits for you: 265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510—
RSG: Impressive, yes, Pi goes on forever. I learned that on Star Trek.
KvP (increasingly animated): I got a million of them! I could throw Pi in your face! … 582097494459230781640628620899862803482534—
RSG: Delicious. But seriously, that’s probably enough for now.
KvP: What? I’m just getting started … 21170—
RSG: That’s quite enough, thank you! Now, as I understand it, you have discovered the largest integer ever.
KvP: Could be. I think I have. Yes, that was me. You see, I just take the number Pi out to infinite digits and then remove the decimal point. That makes the biggest integer and snags me a Nobel Prize!
RSG: Erase the decimal from a number with infinite digits? It can’t be that easy, Doctor.
KvP: Easy? Who are you, my father? Of course, it looks easy when you aren’t the one whose noggin did all the thinking! My father insisted I become a doctor, but he never said what kind. I could have gone to Wall Street, you know. 679—
RSG: Professor, I mean no disrespect, but couldn’t I just add any other integer to your number and get a bigger integer? There’s really no such thing as the world’s biggest integer.
KvP: Who we got here, Groucho Marx or something? Did my father send you? Interview over! Out! Out of my office!
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