# Mathematical moonshine and chicken nuggets

- Cambridge Mathematics
- Mathematical salad
- Mathematical-moonshine

### 28 March 2017

**Mathematical moonshine and chicken nuggets
**

Have you ever heard of the Chicken Nugget Theorem? What about the Ham Sandwich Theorem, or the Midnight Formula?

Odds are, if you're a secondary maths teacher, you will have come across the latter - because it is simply another name for that familiar stalwart of KS4 maths lessons, the Quadratic Formula (so ubiquitous, in fact, that it even makes an appearance on well-known children's TV show Peppa Pig).

The Midnight Formula is a translation of the German *Mitternachtforme*l, so named because you should learn it by heart so well that even if someone wakes you at midnight you can still recite it half-asleep. In some Spanish-speaking countries, this same beautiful little rule is known as the *fórmula del chicharronero*, or the chicharronero's formula, because the *chicharronero* is the person who sells snacks outside the school, and this formula is so pervasive that even they would remember it.

Mathematics is full of astonishingly-named ideas. You might never understand the concept behind monstrous moonshine, but what an elegant and unexpected turn of phrase - and it also uses the no-ghost theory (no, I'm not making this up). The Witch of Agnesi is an exotically-named curve with a simple reason behind it - it was mistranslated from the Italian *versiera* (sine curve), which sounds remarkably like *avversiera* (witch). I'm sure it was a coincidence that it was taken from reportedly the first surviving published mathematical work by a woman....

The field of fractals seems particularly ripe for beautiful names, with Douady rabbits, Koch snowflakes, the flowsnake, Menger sponges and the Minkowski sausage.

If you have a spare ten minutes, this list of quirkily named measurements (including the Sheppey, the shortest distance at which sheep remain picturesque; the New York second - the time taken between a light turning green and the cab behind you hitting its horn; and the donkey power, about a third of a horse power) could make an excellent starter for a maths lesson. Honourable mention also for the jiffy, an actual unit of time that always seems to be a hit in the maths classroom.

And what of that intriguingly-named Chicken Nugget Theorem? In the UK, a well-known takeaway outlet serves their nuggets in boxes of 6, 9 and 20. The eponymous theorem is a way of working out the largest number of nuggets that cannot be bought when constrained by these packet sizes - also called the Frobenius coin problem or the postage stamp problem .

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