Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A 4-color proof

"A four color proof", a parody of "A Boy Named Sue" by Johnny Cash.
Dedicated to Appel, Haken and Koch, with thanks to Hilarie Orman.
Released into the public domain, January 13 2008.

Well my daddy left home when I was three
And he didn't leave much for ma and me
Just a few conjectures and an empty bottle of booze.
Now, I don't blame him cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing he ever did
Was to leave us with a 4-color sketch, unproved.

Well he must a' thought it quite a joke
And it got a lot of laughs from a lot of folks
It seems I had to prove my whole life through.
Some gal would giggle and I'd get red
And some guy'd laugh and I'd bust his head,
I tell ya, it aint easy writin' a 4-color proof.

Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean,
My predicates got hard and my insights keen,
I'd roam from town to town to seem aloof.
But I made a vow to the moon and stars
That I'd search the journals and seminars,
And kill that man who gave me that awful proof.

Well, it was in Atlanta in March '08
And I'd just hit town and was feeling irate,
so I thought I'd hit G4G and see what's new.
At an old card table, on a fractal rug,
Dealin' puzzles, lookin' smug,
Sat the dirty, mangy dog that claimed that proof.

Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad,
From a worn-out picture that my mother'd had,
And I knew that frumpy coat and his ugly tie.
He was big and bent and gray and old,
and I looked at him and my blood ran cold
And I said: "How do you do? 4-color's true!
Now you gonna die!"

Well I hit him hard right between the eyes,
with a manuscript, about 10 feet high,
With nineteen hundred thirty-six cases proved.
And I showed him the code, and the bill I owed,
For the twelve hundred hours of time I'd stole'd,
And said "Just read that through and stay unmoved!"

I tell ya, there'd been longer proofs,
But I really can't remember whose
It read like a dictionary and strained the eye.
I heard him laugh and then I heard him cuss,
He went for his pen and I pulled mine first
He stood there lookin at me and I saw him smile.

And he said: "Son, this world is rough
And to make it in math he's gotta be tough
And I knew I wouldn't be there to help ya along.
So I give ya that sketch and I said goodbye,
I knew you'd have to get tough or die
And it's that theorem that helped to make you strong."

And he said: "My sketch was one hell of a blight,
And I know you hate me and you've got the right
To graduate now, and I wouldn't blame you if you do.
But you ought to thank me, before you go,
For the vectors in the plane and the snarks that you show,
Cause it's my faulty proof that got you through.

I got all choked up and I threw down my proof
And I cited his work and he gave me my due
And I came away with a different point of view.
And I think about him, every now and then
Every time I try, and every time I win
And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna have him prove,
FLT or Goldbach, or anything but 4-color cycling! I still hate that proof!