From the Mental Album – Non-Euclidean Geometry

My 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Chambo, had an interesting way to award extra credit.  On each test or quiz, he would ask a student to pick a topic.  He would come up with a question in that topic, and if you wrote the correct answer down on the test, he would give you the extra points. 

To select the student that would choose the topic, Mr. Chambo would work his way around the room – up one aisle and down the next.  Most guys in my class (yes, it was an all-male school) would pick a sports-related topic, and not being into sports at all I never got those right.  As a result, when it came to be my turn, I decided that I needed to do something a little different.

You see, there was a corollary to Mr. Chambo’s extra credit rule.  If Mr. Chambo couldn’t find a question for the selected topic, he would give EVERYONE in the class the extra credit.  As a result, when it was my turn I decided to shoot for the stars, and see if I could get a win for everyone.  If I succeeded, I’d also win some hard-earned cred with my peers.

My science project that year was actually more like a math project, and in particular dealt with fractals and strange attractors.  I happened to come across the term “non-Euclidean geometry” in my readings.  I had no real idea what it involved, but since Mr. Chambo was an English teacher and not a math teacher, I figured he didn’t either.

When it came time for me to supply the topic, I first confirmed that the second rule.  He said yes, with a trace of a smile – I think he knew what was coming.  “Ok,” I said, “the topic is, ‘non-Euclidean geometry'”.

Utter silence from the rest of the class.

Then the guy behind smacks me in the shoulder – “WHAT?!?”  I just crossed my arms and smiled.  “Just wait,” I said.  After several more seconds of silence from Mr. Chambo, I asked, rather arrogantly, “So, can you come up with a question?”

He smiled.  “Yeah, as a matter of fact I can…”

My heart sank.

I don’t remember the question, but I do remember I didn’t know the answer.  Neither did anyone else in the class.  Mr. Chambo, as I discovered that fateful day, had a math minor with his English major, and one of his professors actually worked with non-Euclidean geometry, so he had picked up a little.

I sat there for the remainder of the class, and furiously avoided all eye contact with my classmates.  What little cred I had going into that particular class period had evaporated.

Gah!  What are the freakin’ odds?!?

Apparently pretty good, seeing as I married someone with that exact major-minor combination.  Sheesh.