Ren Riemann bowed modestly as the audience roared with heartfelt appreciation at her phenomenal performance as Catherine in David Auburn’s play, Proof. She could hear the exhilaration in the room but could not soak it in because her mind was weighed down with self-doubts. As fragile as she could appear to be, as great of a mathematician she could make herself seem, as rare of an actress as she was, she was, ultimately, just an actress. Did the audience love her, or did they love Catherine? Of course they loved Catherine, Ren decided. She longed to be revered for embodying true talent rather than for assuming the persona of a brilliant fictional character.
In reality, mathematics tortured Ren. As a high school senior, she felt ashamed to be taking trigonometry in a room full of sophomores. When Ms. Patel called on Ren to answer a question about limaçons, Ren would let two number two pencils hang out of her mouth and respond, “I don’t know; walruses don’t eat limes,” or she would throw a paper airplane across the room, bark, and chase after it. Ren hated to be obnoxious, and she knew her jokes were lame, but at least this way she could amuse the underclassmen and avoid having to answer questions.
Saturday morning, Ren woke up to another fervent lecture from her brilliant mathematician parents about Ren’s incompetence at their field. It was always the same: didn’t she know she was a direct descendant of Bernhard Riemann? Did she know how disappointed everyone would be if she didn’t continue the family tradition of studying mathematics? Did she even know what a prime number was? After the rhetorical questioning, they would extol the elegance of the Riemann Hypothesis, the “great white whale” of mathematical research, and then ask her if she would consider joining the field.
Ren knew all about hypotheses, and she knew she had inherited Bernhard Riemann’s genes. Though she had a difficult time balancing chemical equations and figuring out ICE tables, Ren was passionate about chemistry. She could memorize the periodic table of elements when she was four.
Usually, whenever Ren’s parents lectured her about mathematics, Ren would shout, “Hydrogen! Helium! Lithium! Beryllium!” and calmly stir her cereal in lime pudding. This particular Saturday morning, she listened with cautious curiosity, her interest having been provoked by her part in
As if gripped by a sudden realization, Ren grabbed her backpack and ran out the door yelling, “I’ll be back tonight…and yes I said yes I will Yes!”
With fierce determination, Ren hopped on her bike and pedaled the two hours to the
They led to a cafeteria. Disappointedly, Ren bought a cup of lime pudding and sat down. Why did she think that she’d find answers here? What was she looking for, anyway? She wanted to put her latent mathematical mind to use, to prove something…she wanted to eat. Ren hastily tore open her pudding cup. In that moment, a second realization dawned upon her. The proof was, had always been, in the pudding.
Modern improvisational comedy had its start with The Compass Players, a group of University of Chicago students, who later formed the Second City comedy troupe. Here is a chance to play along. Improvise a story, essay, or script that meets all of the following requirements:
- It must include the line “And yes I said yes I will Yes” (Ulysses, by James Joyce).
- Its characters may not have superpowers.
- Your work has to mention the University of Chicago, but please, no accounts of a high school student applying to the University–this is fiction, not autobiography.
- Your work must include at least four of the following elements:
- a paper airplane
- a transformation
- a shoe
- the invisible hand
- two doors
- a fanciful explanation of the Pythagorean Theorem
- a ventriloquist or ventriloquism
- the Periodic Table of the Elements
- the concept of jeong
- number two pencils