January 26, 1697

On January 26, 1697, Sir Isaac Newton received Leibniz’s and Bernoulli’s six month time-limit problem. At that time, mathematicians were like rappers today, and were constantly challenging each other with math problems, trying to prove who had the biggest sets of postulates on the block. At the time, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and his student John Bernoulli were the bad-assed calculus bullies on the block. They’d heard rumors about how smart and bright the new number-slinger, Isaac Newton was, and to test his abilities, they published a calculus problem in 1696 challenging ‘the acutest mathematicians of the world” to solve it. They originally gave a 6-month time-limit to solve the problem, and like all math teachers in the world, they demanded that you show your work. For the first six months of the challenge, there were no solutions, as they’d underestimated how long the problem would take to travel from Germany to London, so they extended the time period to a year. The postal system wasn’t as fast as it is today, and unless the news was about a war or royal marriage, things like math challenges took a back seat on magazine deliveries. On January 26, 1697, in London, England, the problem finally made its way from France to Sir Isaac Newton and he solved it like a boss before going to bed that night. In the morning he took his solution to Charles Montegue, who was the President of the Royal Society. If they’d had microphones back then, he’d dropped it like the big math dawg he was. Well, he was an English gentlemen, so he’d probably politely handed the microphone to a stage-hand and ask for a cup of tea and a crumpet or two.

About Joel Byers

Born in North Georgia and educated at some very fine public institutions. Real education started after graduating from college and then getting married and raising two boys. Has the ability to see the funny and absurd in most things and will always remark on it, even if it means getting the stink-eye from his victims.
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