13 Universities in 15 Days (with Bad Drawings)

I know it’s a week early, but having just returned from the joyous delirium my first book tour, I’m feeling Thanksgiving-level gratitude already.

Short version: I spent the last two weeks visiting a baker’s dozen of delightful campuses, and meeting a baker’s infinity of delightful undergrads, faculty, PhD students, and other sundry charmers.

Long version


October 29th: Kutztown University, in scenic Kutztown, PA.

Over dinner, we discuss the various kinds of mappings – isomorphic, diffeomorphic, holomorphic, and Francomorphic (a map whose image is contained in France).

I am also impressed with Kutztown’s pumpkin game:

Nothing is spookier than the NULL PUMPKIN
Surprisingly persuasive cube
Pumpkin pi; pumpkin on a pumpkin; and the coolest symbol in all of mathematics
Name that differential equation!

October 30th: Dickinson College in beautiful Carlisle, PA.

I get to chill with my Twitter buddy Dave Richeson. Between the two of us, we have written a sweeping book about the history of topological ideas and several puns about “hyperbolic” geometry.

Please do not inquire who is responsible for which! Dave and I prefer to share credit.


October 30th: Gettysburg College in historic Gettysburg, PA.

Prof. Darren Glass shows me Mexican food better than anything I thought possible in the Northeast, and I get to visit the site of the Gettysburg Address, because when you’re doing a lot of public speaking, it’s good to be reminded that Lincoln said 10^15 times more than you ever could, and he did it in like 2 minutes.

(Also: the Gettysburg campus cookies live up to their lofty reputation.)


October 31st: Mount Saint Mary’s in lovely Emmitsburg, MD.

It’s a treat to meet Prof. Jonelle Hook (who shows me soap bubble frames shaped like Platonic Solids, from the “Mathematical Thinking” class she designed) and Prof. Scott Weiss (who appeared on Jeopardy and made history with a 3-way tie!)

My talk there is actually available to stream here!

November 1st: George Washington University in the needs-no-Homeric-epithet Washington, DC.

Strolling around campus with my pal Ian before the talk, I come across these posters promoting the event. They are psychedelic and strange and feature a humanoid frog in a Hawaiian shirt, who symbolizes everything I want to be in life.

If I am remembered in 100 years, let this poster be that memory.

November 2nd: College of Southern Maryland in delightful La Plata, MD.

A one-two punch: I get to share Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe with the students, and then rap algebra with the faculty. Both are delicious. We conclude by unraveling an odd trigonometric fact: your age = arcsin(sin(“year you were born” – “years since 1980”)).

(Later I realize that this trick will fail if you’re older than 90, although perhaps telling a 94-year-old that they’re actually 86 is not a “failure” so much as a polite fiction.)

I neglected to take pictures at CMD, but here’s a gorgeous bookstore in Harrisburg, PA called “Midtown Scholar.” I left with “Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis. And a latte. And a pledge to return.

November 5th: University of Maryland in beloved College Park, MD.

Not only are there delightful people willing to chat math with me, but afterwards, there are coconut macaroons in the rotunda. Are there five sweeter, more deliriously happy words in any language than “coconut macaroons in the rotunda”?

In DC – an architectural metaphor for something. Perhaps the way that modern geometry grows up and around its Euclidean predecessor, leaving the quaint original intact?

November 6th: University of Mary Washington in timeless Fredericksburg, VA.

I cannot believe the VIP treatment I am getting. Check this out:


That’s me! Or else it’s the other Ben Orlin, who’s maybe 10 years younger than me and plays a pretty mean trumpet. Clearly he is the more talented Ben Orlin but don’t tell University of Mary Washington, because I had a great visit and don’t want them upgrading.

November 6th: College of William and Mary in unforgettable Williamsburg, VA.

Such a sharp and participatory audience it takes us 20 minutes to get past the first slide. For a while, I listen as two professors debate approaches to math education, which is about 600% more fun for me than talking. (And let’s be honest: I love talking.)

Got breakfast with my wife’s family (my gracious hosts back in DC) in this adorable breakfast spot. The biscuits are glory.

November 8th: A break from the travels to do a YouTube interview with Joanne Manaster and Jeff Shaumeyer of Read Science! You can watch below:

November 8th: University of North Carolina in happenin’ Chapel Hill, NC.

A bass ukulele left in the lecture leads to an impromptu performance from my host professor, Justin Sawon. The students are universally charming and brilliant.

I take myself out for breakfast at First Watch and eat this cinnamon pancake, which is THE BEST PANCAKE I HAVE EVER HAD BAR NONE

November 9th: Appalachian State University in delightful Boone, NC.

The far point of my travels (about 800 miles from home) is well worth it, because they let me rap with them about p-values for an hour. By the end of the afternoon I am pretty ready to buy real estate here.

Boone, NC: “It’s a weirder place than you think”

The projector decides to photobomb this shot with my Twitter pal Brad Warfield:

The brilliant faculty members also direct me to Woodlands for barbecue, where I have the finest chicken wings that any chicken has ever winged:

Sorry, I meant to photograph other things, but basically it’s all pictures of my food at this point

November 12th: Hofstra University in bustling Hempstead, NY.

It’s a wonderful visit – my host, Nick Bragman, is a senior that any sane grad program should totally accept if they’re reading this.

November 12th: Stony Brook University in scenic Stony Brook, NY.

Before the talk, I get a quick chat with Professor Moira Chas, a topologist who crochets stunning models of topological objects, like this:

A torus divided into seven hexagonal regions, each of which shares a border with the other six

Check out more at Prof. Chas’ site, which is 10,000% worth it.

And that brings us to the present moment, more or less. Thanks so, so much to all of my gracious hosts along the way, and to all those who came to chat math with me. When I started teaching 9.5 years ago, I could never have guessed it’d give me chances and experiences like this.

I leave you with one final image, from a weekend stop in Philly with my friends Ryan and Ana:

At Green Eggs, I ordered the “ginger snap oatmeal,” and they brought me A BOWL OF COOKIES WITH A SPOON and what I’m trying to tell you is THE WORLD IS MADE OF LOVE

5 thoughts on “13 Universities in 15 Days (with Bad Drawings)

  1. Wow, “a baker’s infinity”… does that work when I’m requesting donuts? DOH!
    By chance, will there be any Barnes & Nobles, or independent bookstores in tours #2, 3, or 4?

  2. The formula you gave only works if the calculator you use is set to DEG mode (i.e., using degrees, not radians, as measurement of angle).

    age = arcsin(sin(“year you were born” – “years since 1980”))

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