The Corner

Bleg For Math-Student Corner Readers

This is an APB to math student (or college teacher) readers who have easy

access to a good periodicals library.

Endnote 10 to Prime Obsession reads as follows: “Here is an example of

e turning up unexpectedly. Select a random number between 0 and 1. Now

select another and add it to the first. Keep doing this, piling on random

numbers. How many random numbers, on average, do you need to make the total

greater than 1? Answer: e.”

A math teacher emailed in to ask for a source for this. I was embarrassed

to admit I don’t have one. It is certainly true, as a few minutes with a

random number generator will convince you. But who discovered it? I’ve

been carrying it round in my head since college days — I suppose one of our

lecturers told us.

The only documentary reference I have been able to track down is in David

Wells’s Penguin Dictionary of Curious & Interesting Numbers, the entry for

e. Wells gives the following as his source: “MG v74 167.” I assume this

means page 167 of Volume 74 of the Mathematical Gazette, and I assume this

is the London MG (Wells is British), not the Massachusetts one, or the

Romanian one, or any other.

I have no easy access to a good math library. Could some obliging student

please look up the reference & give me title, author and date? Thanks!


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