more nyt feel-good stories

I needed this, NYT’s latest stories that have nothing to do with politics in which they discover and share stories from around the web that take us away from the current newscycle of politics, terrorism, pain and suffering.

world’s smallest violin


Atlas Obscura has a story about the world’s smallest violin, at 1/64th normal size measuring less than 12 inches in length. The fraction represents the volume inside the instrument compared with regular violins. Mostly they go to 1/16th so 1/64 is tiny and rare. These small ones are made for kids, with this 1/64 model for 2 year olds. Yep, two years old and learning the violin. I do know that with learning, especially languages and music, the best results are to start young. Most young violinists start off with an instrument constructed from a box–the idea is to get them used to the feel and bow movement before actually getting them to produce sound.

One of the manufacturers of small violins is Stentor Music from the UK (their image above), who started making them in the 1980s. They have a factory in Mainland China where small violins are handcrafted. There is a limited demand, because kids grow out of them, so they only make a few hundred a year. I don’t think they are concert quality, but definitely serve a purpose. I wonder how many young musical prodigies started with a 1/64.

happy ending maths problem


Quanta magazine tells the story of Hungarian mathematicians Esther Klein and George Szekeres, and their friend Paul Erdős. The problem is dubbed the happy ending problem because Klein and Szekeres fell in love and got married. Anyway, the original problem:

Given five points, and assuming no three fall exactly on a line, prove that it is always possible to form a convex quadrilateral — a four-sided shape that’s never indented (meaning that, as you travel around it, you make either all left turns or all right turns)

They proved it for 5 points to make a 4-sided polygon f(4); and 17 points to make a hexagon f(6). The general solution they proposed, the formula for the number of points it would take to guarantee a convex polygon:

f(n) = 1+ 2(n–2)

was only recently solved by Andrew Suk of the University of Illinois in Chicago. It gets a bit too technical for me, involving what’s known as the cups-caps theorem and an area of maths called Ramsey theory that says:

within large disorganized sets — like a set of points dispersed randomly on a plane — you will always be able to find well-organized subsets

And this is when I wish I were better at maths. I can understand the simple one page wikipedia entry but not the more complex explanation on quanta.

Luckily, numberphile has a video. It was made in 2014 which pre-dates Andrew Suk’s proof but is a good introduction. Talking about happy ending, Klein and Szekeres moved to Australia after WW2 and passed away within an hour of each other on 28 August 2005.

marriage made tidy

The NYT itself had an article about marraige turning a slob magically tidy. Before she got married, Helen Ellis was a slob-hoarder, who didn’t bat an eyelid when she had food crumbs on her sofa, or even bothered to close cabinet doors and drawers. Her husband still married her.

A year into our marriage, my husband said: “Would you mind keeping the dining room table clean? It’s the first thing I see when I come home.”

What I heard was, “I want a divorce.” What I said was, “Do you want a divorce?”

“No,” he said. “I just want a clean table.”

I called my mother.

She asked, “What’s on the table?”

“Oh, everything. Whatever comes off my body when I come home. Shopping bags, food, coffee cups, mail. My coat.”

Her mother called her husband a saint and told her to learn how to clean.

And she did.

She bought storage boxes and gave away stuff. She started dusting and treating making the bed as cardio exercise.

I guess there are two kinds of people, those who tidy up after themselves and those who don’t. I can’t even let a drawer be a centimeter not closed. Everything has to be put back. A slob, even a recovered slob like Ms Ellis has to remind herself to tidy up, it’s not second nature to her.

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