Math Puzzle

Originally published on January 12th, 2013 by Dimitri Bouniol. #FNADNST

My name is Bonnie.

I'm a mathematician.

That's what I wanted to be in any case.

I thought such a profession would be a peaceful one.

A simple career path of going to school to learn about math, then teaching it to others once you knew enough of it.

Nice and simple.

I had no idea how interesting math was though.

The more I studied it, the more I got under its skin and discovered cool little tricks.

Before I had even graduated college, I had already started solving small puzzles that had taken great minds to come up with a proof.

It had become a pastime of mine to pass time with professors from my university and discuss proofs.

They ranged from calculus, to abstract algebra, to even game theory.

No matter how many puzzles I thought I solved on my own though, my professors would always have the same proof as I did, just from several decades ago.

Eventually, I started researching for more and puzzles to spend my time on.

After almost all of them though, i was told a proof already existed.

I wasn't even interested in seeing the other proof anymore — I just needed to find an unsolved problem or I wouldn't be satisfied.

Eventually though, I came across one of my own proofs, published just a few months ago in a mathematics journal by none other than my professor.

I didn't know what to think about it, what to do.

I decided that I'd publish my findings online first before showing anyone at that point, so that way my mark could be made.

I didn't know much about the internet… at the time.

All I cared about was mathematics after all.

I asked my friend to help set me up a simple website, and from then on I published everything I discovered.

I didn't know if anyone was reading them, but my friend told me that if I did discover something, it would be saved by other computers as the first copy or something, and that was all I cared about.

I never dreamed that this would land me in prison of all places, where I am now.

It all started a couple months ago when I called out the professor on stealing my proof.

I didn't report it to anybody — I simply went to his office and told him that I didn't appreciate it.

Maybe I was too nice of a person — naive really — who was so entangled in their little world of mathematics that they failed to notice they were being taken advantage of over and over again.

But I didn't know what else to do.

Perhaps laughing at my frustration, that professor simply gave me another puzzle.

It was a seemingly simple one: given a very large number, find its factors.

Unwilling to play his game any more, I simply left the room.

Looking back, perhaps it was foolish of me to ignore the creeping smile that was spread across his face.

However, that problem he gave me wouldn't escape my mind.

I laughed to myself at how that could be an unsolved puzzle.

Given a small number, I was easily able to decompose it into its primes.

However the larger the number got, the harder it became.

My own mental limit was numbers with 5 digits.

On paper, I could only go up to 6.

There had to be a better way.

I spent about a month trying to figure out a fast and elegant way to find the answer to this problem.

It tortured my brain every day.

I often lost sleep at night thinking about it, and even started to neglect my classes.

Towards the end of that month, I had stopped going to school altogether.

Finally, I had found the answer.

At the time, I had been awake for more than 50 hours, so I hurried to my computer to publish the proof I was so proud of so I can go to sleep in peace.

I don't believe I had ever sleep so well in my life.

Waking up the next morning, my mind was so clear.

I checked on the proof I typed up last night the moment I woke up so I might marvel on it once more, but for some reason it had disappeared.

Its not like I forgot it or anything, so I assumed it was simply a glitch.

Such an elegant proof required me you invent a new counting system based on prime bases, rather than powers of a single base.

It was quire unheard of, but it got the job done — all one needed to do was convert the large number to the prime base system, and its factors become immediately evident.

Seeing as classes were about to start, I decided to rewrite it later and just attend before I failed all of them.

That day, I had wanted to show that professor my proof just to rub his face in it, but I leaned from the main office that he had turned in his letter for retirement that morning, and won't be coming back.

The class he was teaching was now lectured by his graduate student who was just as surprised as the administration.

It bothered me for quite a while actually.

That would have been the height of my joy to present that proof, but there was nothing that could be done.

I slept early that day.

The next morning, I re-wrote the proof, simplifying it quite a bit seeing as I had some rest before writing it.

Satisfied, I submitted it to my website and got ready for the day's classes.

That day, I decided to eat lunch in the school cafeteria, where they usually have large TVs, an appliance I usually don't have any use for.

However, I wanted to get my mind off of that professor, so I thought it would be a good distraction.

Once I had gotten my food, I starred blankly at it while eating.

It was as if all my energy had been used up, a very relaxing feeling actually.

So relaxing, actually, that it took me a while to realize that the news was on.

Not only that, everyone was watching the news.

That was odd, I thought.

But once I realized the gravity of the news being reported, I immediately understood why.

It seemed that over the last hour, huge amounts of money had been swindled from banks, ripping through every security infrastructure they had.

Not only that, nuclear power plants throughout not only the country, but also the world, had been taken offline out of similar fears.

The news reported said that world security protocols had been cracked and spread all over the internet through popular sites, and that nothing digital was really secure anyone.

All I remember thinking to myself then was that it would be fun to crack such a puzzle.

This was a week ago.

After returning home at the end of that day, I met the police at the door.

After confirming my identity, they quickly arrested me on grounds of treason to the government.

I've been in this high security prison since.

I never thought that being a Mathematician had anything to do with the real world around me.

It was, to me, my own world I escaped to whenever I had the chance.

After a series of interrogations, I understood that the security protocol that had been cracked that day was based on the fact that very large numbers were hard to factorize.

I had unknowingly broken what civilization thought was unbreakable.

I told everything to the investigators, but they ignored any plea of innocence I had.

Apparently naivety wasn't enough to get out of this one.

Hearing a sound, I looked up to see the cell door being opened again.

Two guards walked in and undid the handcuffs around my wrists.

Another man, much more important looking, told me to follow him.

Apparently I was being let go, or so I thought.

I followed him into a car, and his driver took off immediately.

"We captured the professor" the man said with a smile.

Seeing the confusion on my face, he continued: "It was hard to locate him since he changed all records that let to his real identity, but we just confirmed it with your school."

"He had apparently hacked into your website and stolen your proof before anyone else could get at it, and proceeded to leave the country with a huge amount of funds and without a trail."

"Unfortunately for him though, the whole world now became his enemy. When he was captured, he claimed he had just taken your proof, but his fraudulent behavior justified us just poring the blame onto him instead!" he finished with a smile.

"Sorry for the late introductions. I am Captain Levy of the National Center for Algorithmic Research."

"I hate to tell you that we unfortunately discovered the proof you naively published online, but it took us quite a while to come up with it. For someone so young to solve that… would you like to join us?" the mad said.

I again wasn't sure what to think of the situation, but the prospect of being able to solve more math puzzles was enough for me.


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