After centuries of baffling the world’s greatest mathematicians, Fermat’s Second-to-Last Theorem has finally been proven. Fergus Kirkenheim, who crafted the seminal paper, has been awarded the so-called “Nobel Prize of Mathematics”–namely, an inset dedicated to him in a high school calculus textbook.
The notorious theorem was formulated nearly three hundred years ago in a letter from Pierre de Fermat to his rival, Louis-Jacques La Granvier. Amongst many petty insults, the letter contained the following gem of insight: “Every natural number N can be found on the face of a scale reading your mom’s weight.” That statement came to be known as Fermat’s Second-to-Last Theorem.
“Some might see the so-called ‘theorem’ as nothing more than a minor personal insult,” says Kirkenheim, “but it is actually much more than that: it is a major personal insult.”
For centuries, theoreticians strove to prove this theorem, often driving themselves to insanity or the library in their obsession to find a proof. Some even tacitly assumed the truth of the theorem and used it to prove theorems of their own: Euler’s famous Maternal Mass Lemma depended on the Theorem, as did Gauss’s Second Law of Ancestral Curvature. As more and more new theorems came to rely on Fermat’s unproven one, the pressure grew to prove this conjecture and validate the centuries of work that had been based on it.
As the years wore on, a few steps were made toward a proof. Emmy Noether showed that “You might be odd, but you sure aren’t prime”; Alan Turing used complex algebra to demonstrate that “Your love life is purely imaginary”; and Georg Cantor published a daguerreotype of himself thumbing his nose at the reader. Despite these scattered advances, a complete proof remained elusive.
The hero who would solve the riddle finally arrived in Fergus Kirkenheim, a short, balding professor from the University of Grand Forks (South Campus). His paper spanned seven hundred forty-three pages summarizing the work past mathematicians had done. At the end of this review was his single, forceful statement that proved the hypothesis once and for all: “By inspection, Fermat’s Second-to-Last Theorem can be seen to be true. I leave the proof as an exercise for the reader.”
Kirkenheim is optimistic about the impact that his work will have on future progress: “Now that we’ve found proofs for Fermat’s Last Theorem and Fermat’s Second- to-Last Theorem, I think we will soon see a general solution that can solve Fermat’s Nth-to-Last Theorem for any integer N.”
Kirkenheim, however, says he will leave that task to someone else, for he has already set his sights on another age-old mystery: deciphering the Rosetta Pebble.