There was a play on Broadway called “Six Degrees of Separation.” The premise is as follows: given any persons, A and H, there exist at most six other persons B, C, D, E, F and G such that
A has met B,
B has met C,
C has met D,
D has met E,
E has met F,
F has met G,
G has met H.
Mathematicians also have the concept of The Paul Erdos Number. Your Erdos number is one if you have co-authored a paper with Erdos. It is two if you have co-authored a paper with someone who co-authored a paper with Erdos, and so on. Erdos who is said to have been the second most prolific author in mathematics history, must have had many co-authors. My Erdos number is six or fewer if you believe the play or five or fewer if you believe the “Handshake conjecture.”
I’ve Got Your Number – Everybody Loves BaconAnd then there is the actor Kevin Bacon. Your Bacon number is one if you have appeared in a film with Bacon. It is two if you have been in a film with a person who has been in a film with Bacon, etc.
Your Acquaintance Handshake Number (AHN) with a person, A, is one if you know A. It is two if you know a person who knows A. Ditto the above. In the text that appears below, I caution you that the larger the AHN of a person whose story I relate, the lower my confidence in the details of that story.
Charles Manson; AHN = 2: A colleague, Rod, was outside his rented house in California. A van pulled up. Manson and two young ladies got out and approached Rod. Manson said, “I hear you are pretty good working with you hands. Do you think you could design me a wooden bed for the back of the van?” Rod said that he could and sketched out a plan on the tablet he carried. He also wrote out an estimate of needed materials. Then Manson said, “You don’t happen to have these materials lying around?” Rod replied, “No, but there is a lumber yard just down the road.” Manson and the young ladies got into the van and pulled away, but were back shortly with the lumber. “Do you think you could help me build the bed ?“ said Manson. Rod, disarmed by the visitor’s chutzpah, agreed to do so.
Then Manson instructed the ladies to go into the house, clean it and make dinner, probably using Rod’s provisions. The bed having been built and the dinner eaten, Manson left, but not before inviting Rod to meet him and his friends on the beach for nightly parties. Rod thanked Manson, but was wise enough to stay away from the beach at night. Since I know Rod, my Manson AHN is two.
Charles Manson; AHN =3: A colleague, Aaron, was traveling out west and got friendly with a policeman. The policeman told Aaron that one a saw a friend’s car approaching and waved. But the driver didn’t wave back. When the policeman saw his friend some time later and asked him why he did not wave the friend replied, “I could not have been driving the car. My car was stolen.” After that the policeman had the habit of checking various cars’ license plate numbers looking for stolen cars. One day one of the cars he checked turned out to be reported stolen. The policeman followed the car down the road and onto a long lane leading to a house. Around the house were cars in various stages of being disassembled and some men disassembling them. The place was a chop shop, and the gang’s leader was Manson. That was how Manson was found after the Sharon Tate murders.
Are You Hopeless?My Bob Hope AHN is two. John is a neighbor. His father was a customs agent for the port of New York City. It was his job to take a boat out to incoming vessel, for instance, the Normandy, and do what customs agents do. He often took the young John with him, and John was treated royally by the staff as he waited for his father. On one of the visits, John’s father introduced him to Bob Hope. Hope greeted the young boy: “Hello, John.” Several years later on a trip with his father to an ocean liner, John saw Bob Hope again. Without hesitation and in spite of the time that had passed, Bob Hope said to John, “Hello John.”
Are You a Kahn Artist?Louis Kahn; AHN = 1: I met him at a party given by a mutual friend. Several years later my husband and I were having an early dinner. We were then going to a student concert at the then New School of Music. We saw Louis with a woman and a small boy, who I presumed was his son. We talked briefly with Louis and then left for the concert. The interesting thing is that Louis and his entourage also arrived there. The boy was also a student at the school. It is the custom at these events for the younger students to play first, after which they leave with their guardians. But Louis, showing great courtesy to the musicians, stayed for the whole recital.
Miss White; AHN = 2: When I lived in New Jersey, the county agent of Burlington County was a neighbor. He told me that he visited Miss White at White’s Bog, which after her death became a research station. Miss White used to give the Indians ten dollars if they found a particularly heavy bearing blueberry bush or an unusually handsome American holly. My neighbor noticed that she had cuttings of the holly in clay pots on one side of her house and holly in beer cans on the other. When questioned she explained that holly comes in male and female plants and she, being a maiden lady, thought it proper to separate the plants: males in beer cans and females in clay pots.
I’ve got your number!
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