The Math of Hunting Lions

Bibliography of papers on math & physics methods of hunting lions in the Sahara Desert.

Pétard has captured the lion. From left to right: Boas, Smithies, Weil. Grantchester, 13 May 1939.

The fascinating history of identity and document spoofing by esteemed mathematicians with a wonderful sense of humor. I cited this in the book, Ong’s Hat: The Beginning.

The material was written up by R. P. Boas and F. Smithies [Smithies 2002, personal communication] and appeared in [Pétard 1938]. Part of JWT’s assistance was in keeping the nonexistence of the nominal author, H. Pétard and of Pondiczery quiet when the Monthly enquired about the paper’s author. The full identification of Pondiczery was Ersatz Stanislas Pondiczery at the Royal Institute of Poldavia. The hope was that someday a document could be signed ESP RIP [Aspray & Tucker 1985]).

…Albert Tucker: Was it that group that used the pseudonym “Pondiczery”?

Tukey: Yes, but with a somewhat broader reference.

Aspray: For what purpose?

Tukey: Well, the hope was that at some point Ersatz Stanislaus Pondiczery at the Royal Institute of Poldavia was going to be able to sign something ESP RIP. Then there’s the wedding invitation done by the Bourbakis. It was for the marriage of Betty Bourbaki and Pondiczery. It was a formal wedding invitation with a long Latin sentence, most of which was mathematical jokes, three quarters of which you could probably decipher. Pondiczery even wrote a paper under a pseudonym, namely “The Mathematical Theory of Big Game Hunting” by H. Pétard, which appeared in the Monthly. There were also a few other papers by Pondiczery.

Tukey: Somebody with a high principle. Pondiczery’s official residence was in Ong’s Hat, New Jersey3⁠, which is a wide place in the road going southeast from Pemberton, but it does appear on some road maps. There is a gas station that has a sign out about Ong’s Hat.

Aspray: But no sign for Pondiczery?

Tukey: No sign for Pondiczery. Spelled c-z-e-r-y, by the way. Not like the area of India, Pondicherry, which is spelled c-h. Anyway, this was a good group, and it enjoyed its existence. I learned a lot from dinner table conversations.


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