Historical Lens: OSC's Puzzling History

    Date Posted: 
    Monday, June 8, 2020

    By Tammy Orr

    Over the years, many important discoveries at the Wyant College of Optical Sciences (OSC) have taken place after months of serious research and effort. But in OSC’s archived newsletters from the 1970s and 80s, I discovered an intellectual playfulness and competitive spirit among some of the greatest minds in optics—as they stepped away from their research for a few minutes to solve mathematical games, riddles and puzzles.

    Each week, OSC’s editorial staff would post a different brain teaser in the newsletter, OSCillations. The answer—along with the list of OSCers who correctly solved the puzzle—would follow the next week. Many of the Center’s earliest professors, staff and students participated. Most intriguing was Nobel Laureate Willis Lamb’s tendency to submit answers he had worked out on his computer using BASIC—always noting that “this may be one of the slowest ways to solve the problem.”

    So, take a few minutes today to rediscover mathematics for recreation. Ranging from simple arithmetic or logic puzzles to more complex problems, several—that were once enjoyed by OSC professors Hyatt Gibbs, Fred Hopf, Willis Lamb, Jim Palmer, Roland Shack and others—are included in the following slideshow. For time to think, the slideshow can be paused on a puzzle; or a PDF of the puzzles can be downloaded here. (For those of you who enjoy a challenging crossword puzzle, I have included one featuring opticists throughout history in the PDF.) All answers can be found here.