One idea, one story: Dantzig and the two open problems

An event in Dantzig's life became the origin of a famous story in 1939 while he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley in the class of professor Jerzy Neyman.

It happened because during my first year at Berkeley I arrived late one day at one of [Jerzy] Neyman's classes. On the blackboard there were two problems that I assumed had been assigned for homework. I copied them down. A few days later I apologized to Neyman for taking so long to do the homework — the problems seemed to be a little harder than usual. I asked him if he still wanted it. He told me to throw it on his desk. I did so reluctantly because his desk was covered with such a heap of papers that I feared my homework would be lost there forever. About six weeks later, one Sunday morning about eight o'clock, [my wife] Anne and I were awakened by someone banging on our front door. It was Neyman. He rushed in with papers in hand, all excited: "I've just written an introduction to one of your papers. Read it so I can send it out right away for publication." For a minute I had no idea what he was talking about. To make a long story short, the problems on the blackboard that I had solved thinking they were homework were in fact two famous unsolved problems in statistics. That was the first inkling I had that there was anything special about them.

[Albers, Donald J.; Alexanderson, Gerald L.;Reid, Constance, eds. (1990). "George B. Dantzig". More Mathematical People. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 60–79.]

Last modified: Friday, 2 September 2016, 6:20 PM