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**Bose: **Howdy fellow math nerds! This is Tulika Bose, Senior Multimedia Editor at Scientific American. If you skip that well-known Scientific American Martin Gardner column from the 1950’s — by no means anxiety, we have some good mathematical information coming your way in the New Yr.

But for now, I’d like to go away you with a person of my beloved stories from this previous year, hosted and edited by the exceptionally proficient Allison Parshall. It tracks the story of Cleo, a mysterious user on a Math stack exchange recognised for unleashing a series of quick fire drive-by- responses on the forum with no showing any of her perform. In between 2013 and 2015 — the user named Cleo did this about 37 occasions, driving anyone with STEM levels a tiny, very well wild. But who was Cleo?

**Anthony Bonato: **It’s a bit of an city legend in mathematics. There’s a kind of a romance to the story, in a way.

**Allison Parshall: **I’m Allison Parshall, and you are listening to* Science, Promptly. *These days we’ve acquired an episode about a mysterious figure in the on the net math world. They disappeared several years in the past but are *nonetheless* sparking discussion and speculation.

[CLIP: Show theme music]

**Parshall:** We all appreciate a superior puzzle. Some persons have their crosswords. Some people play Sudoku. Other men and women are however undertaking Wordle.

But Ron Gordon, a patent agent and previous physicist in Massachusetts, does hardcore calculus. Back again in 2013, when our tale takes location, he used more than enough time on this on the web discussion board named Math Stack Trade that it could have certified as a full-time career.

**Gordon:** I was operating my whole- time position, and then I was on Stack Trade. Furthermore, I had a relatives, too. I was acquiring so substantially entertaining with it that I just didn’t even hold keep track of of how numerous hours I was dedicating to it.

**Parshall: **The Arithmetic Stack Exchange web-site is like Yahoo Answers, if the people today on Yahoo Answers had graduate-amount STEM degrees.

Now Ron has solved 2,954 math difficulties in his 10 years on Stack Exchange, but he’s most well-known for his respond to to just one integral in specific. On November 11, 2013, a Stack Trade person asked a problem:

“I have to have aid with this integral: the integral from damaging one to a person of 1 more than x times the square root of 1 moreover x about just one minus x instances the normal log of 2x squared as well as 2x plus 1, all divided by 2x squared minus 2x moreover 1, dx.”

**Jay Cummings: **Okay, that is a insane integral. And there are so a lot of areas to it that, you know, 1 factor variations, any a single of these a person thing modifications, and the answer is wholly various.

**Parshall: **That is Jay Cummings. He’s an associate professor of math at California State College, Sacramento. I have enlisted his assistance to determine out what the heck I’m wanting at.

As a great deal as resolving integrals has haunted my nightmares considering that Calc II, the *plan* of an integral is in fact very easy. Image a line on a graph. Now envision taking a colored pencil and shading in the location beneath that line, down to the bottom axis of the graph.

What we’re attempting to discover is the *space* of this colored region. For a straight line, this is super easy—it’s essential geometry. But the additional difficult and curvy and bizarre your line gets, the extra tough it is to determine out the location underneath it. Now the integral in the November 11, 2013, post—that was *tricky.* The line on the graph appears like the spine of a extended-necked dinosaur.

The authentic poster attempted employing a couple of personal computer applications, but none of them could give what’s identified as the “closed form” of the answer—that’s a specific and concise resolution. 5 minutes following it was posted, an individual commented:

“Do you have any cause to believe that there is a shut kind for that horrid-on the lookout detail?”

**Gordon:** And that was a pretty great concern … due to the fact it would conserve most people a ton of time if another person said, “This point is unattainable. Neglect it. There is no way.”

**Parshall: **Then, 4 and a 50 % several hours after the first put up, there is an answer:

“I equals 4 pi moments the arccotangent of the sq. root of the golden ratio.”

The reply came from a person named Cleo. It was a new account with only one former response. Cleo furnished no notes, no evidence, no explanation—just a one hyperlink around the symbol for the golden ratio, which can take you to a definition of the golden ratio. *Oof.*

**Cummings:** Which is this kind of a ridiculous solution. It is like you get this perception of “Am I working with a supercomputer here, a theorem-prover that has not been unveiled still? Did ChatGPT start out back again in 2012 with integral resolving?”

**Parshall: **The Stack Trade local community, which *usually* showed their do the job, erupted in arguments in the comments area. Here’s one particular:

“I defer to Hamming: ‘The function of computing is perception, not numbers.’ Unless of course the final result by itself is especially illuminating, I do not concur that it is an respond to.”

**Parshall: **That past remark arrived from Ron Gordon, the patent agent and previous physicist, who didn’t see a total whole lot of benefit in Cleo’s bare-bones remedy.

**Gordon:** I think at the finish of the day, the worth of a website like Stack Trade lies in what expertise you can impart to individuals. And I imagine just the bare solution to the query, by by itself, does not have that substantially benefit.

But it impacted my willpower to occur up with a final resolution for sure. And I spent the superior part of a weekend undertaking it, producing it up. Took me about 50 % a lawful pad to get the job done via it.

**Parshall: **It turns out Cleo experienced been *ideal. *Ron posted the comprehensive remedy, which immediately commenced collecting upvotes from community customers. A good deal of them have been in awe of the procedures he’d employed to address the trouble. It was at some point posted to the subreddit r/Math under the title “Master of Integration.”

**Gordon:** It is insane. This is a person point I did 10 several years ago. I think I have much better responses in the Stack Exchange earth than that just one, believe it or not. But yeah, Cleo also, you know, I believe hits a nerve, as well, definitely.

**Parshall: **Cleo’s push-by remedy had unleashed madness on Math Stack Exchange. Between 2013 and 2015, she’d go on to do this *37 *a lot more occasions, usually popping in *unreasonably* immediately to address *extremely* sophisticated integration challenges with absolutely fashioned solutions. She did not present even an iota of her perform. Then she’d disappear once again into the ether.

**Anthony Bonato** Authorities actually are divided about Cleo. You know, it is evidently an individual who has a authentic mastery of integration tactics…. Like, she mentions these bizarre capabilities, like, I have by no means read of.

**Parshall: **Which is Anthony Bonato. He’s a mathematician at Toronto Metropolitan College.

**Bonato: **Some persons have speculated that possibly Cleo is Stephen Hawking—or was Stephen Hawking—or, you know, the late Maryam Mirzakhani, the Fields Medalist.

**Parshall: **Meals for assumed, I guess.

**Cummings:** Or is this, I really do not know, Terence Tao, you know, just soothing in the night?

**Parshall: **For the report, Terence Tao, often explained as one of the finest residing mathematicians, confirmed via e-mail that he was not, in point, Cleo.

**Cummings: **Or is this a Ramanujan…? Is Cleo another math genius from southern India who just is performing this in their spare time?

**Parshall: **That genius he’s conversing about, that is Srinivasa Ramanujan, a single of the most enigmatic figures in mathematics historical past. You could possibly have read of him—Dev Patel performed him in a 2016 biopic termed *The Man Who Knew Infinity.*

[CLIP: Dev Patel in *The Man Who Knew Infinity*: “We need proofs of your work.” “But they are right, sir.” “I hadn’t completed that proof; how do you know?” “I just do.”]

**Parshall: **He was born in Tamil Nadu in 1887, but he comes up a *lot* when you chat about Cleo.

**Cummings: **He experienced this intuitive feel for math that was … frankly awe-inspiring…. He experienced no advanced math education. And but, someway, he arrived up with these remarkable theorems.

**Parshall: **They appear to have struck the similar nerve 100-some decades aside.

**Cummings:** Since he didn’t contain proofs. And that was form of Ramanujan’s gift and curse. I indicate, he was so, so talented, but he was never ever place into the academic box that suggests, “Here’s how you demonstrate matters this is the path to get in buy to do mathematics.”

**Gordon:** I consider a good deal of men and women who just hated becoming advised, “Show your function, present your do the job, clearly show your do the job…,” here’s anyone flaunting not exhibiting their work, and people are cheering at the rear of that.

**Parshall: **But for Ron and for so quite a few on Math Stack Trade, all of the *pleasurable* of their shared interest is in demonstrating your perform. It is not a dry explanation—it’s an experience. Just take Ron’s reply to that notorious 2013 integral.

**Gordon: **By the time I got to in which I preferred it, it experienced like an eighth-diploma polynomial in the denominator, which, below typical circumstances, would indicate “No, you are not likely to be equipped to do this.” But it turned out that the polynomial had a lot of symmetry and I could then exploit that symmetry to deduce all the roots. I was in a position to reduce what I had to discover from an eighth-degree polynomial to a quadratic, and from the quadratic, the golden ratio fell out.

**Parshall: **It turned out that Ron’s techniques for fixing the issue had been powerful to a good deal of individuals. His answer has acquired just about 1,000 upvotes and is even now shared about nowadays.

**Gordon:** Do you at any time look at *The Massive Bang Idea?* There is a scene in which Sheldon has this massive formula on his whiteboard and he goes, “Look at it. I truly feel like I just manufactured a newborn.” And I have to say, when he said that, I laughed so hard. Because there is a ton of truth of the matter in that. When you appear up with a little something that’s 4 pi arccotangent sq. root of phi, and you’ve derived it, you do truly feel like you developed a little something.

**Parshall: **And Cleo created anything, way too, in her individual way. But who she was, why she did it—nobody would seem to know.

**Parshall (tape):** Do you have any own ideas on who Cleo is, what she does, why she does what she does?

**Gordon:** Absolutely not. I have no notion who Cleo is. In reality, a whole lot of the folks I corresponded with and interacted with on the website, I know really little… I know extremely minimal of.

**Parshall: **Not too long ago speculation has sparked back up all over again, thanks to a viral TikTok video clip about Cleo. Given that then a consumer on Twitter has claimed to be Cleo but has not made available any proof, and while some persons are obtaining it, a good deal of people today are not. Whoever Cleo was, it seems that she was just quite, very excellent at math—though some, like Bonato, suspect a computer system may well have been included at some place.

However, that doesn’t imply she was a bot, possibly. Computing ability for this kind of integration is however confined and would have been even a lot more so in 2013.

**Gordon: **Provided that the software could not do these integrals, I doubt it. I’d be actual curious to uncover out what she’s bought her palms on.

**Parshall: **Cleo’s profile alone, which hasn’t been up to date in 7 several years, tragically does not give any clues. Nowadays her bio reads:

“My actual identify is Cleo, I’m feminine. I have a medical issue that helps make it really complicated for me to have interaction in conversations, or put up prolonged solutions, sorry for that. I like math and do my ideal to be useful at this web site, though I comprehend my answers might be not handy for all people.”

But—*but—*I did marvel, “Has that often been her bio?” I considered I’d double-check so I went on the Internet Archive, pasted in her URL and clicked a snapshot that was taken in 2013 due to the fact, remember, little ones, almost nothing on the world wide web is at any time actually long gone. And her bio was unique again then. And guess who she estimates?

“‘While asleep, I experienced an uncommon working experience. There was a purple display screen formed by flowing blood, as it have been. I was observing it. Abruptly a hand began to generate on the monitor. I turned all focus. That hand wrote a quantity of elliptic integrals. They trapped to my brain. As shortly as I woke up, I fully commited them to writing.’ —Srinivasa Ramanujan”

Then Cleo wrote:

“Remember, you are not locked into a single axiom system. You may well invent your possess, each time you wish—just use your intuition and imagination.”

[CLIP: Theme music]

**Parshall**: *Science, Immediately* is manufactured by Jeff DelViscio, Tulika Bose, Kelso Harper, and Carin Leong. Our concept songs was composed by Dominic Smith.

Never ignore to subscribe to *Science, Rapidly* where ever you get your podcasts. For much more in-depth science information and attributes, go to ScientificAmerican.com. And if you like the demonstrate, give us a ranking or assessment!

For *Scientific American*’s *Science, Speedily*, I’m Allison Parshall.

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