This particular problem is a bit too applied for my taste, but it’s always nice to see mathematicians in the news:
For decades, math and computer science have played a profound role in the drawing of legislative districts. And it’s hard to argue that they’ve improved the process. As the amount of information and computing power available to the gerrymanderers has ballooned, they have gotten much better at surgically crafting districts to their precise desires.
So, with a reapportionment of House seats coming up in just over two years, after the next decennial census, mathematicians are now plotting their revenge. After 2010, most states will redraw their congressional districts to account for population shift, sometimes adding or subtracting seats. It’s tough to find many defenders of the status quo, in which a supermajority of House seats are noncompetitive. (Congressional Quarterly ranked 324 of the 435 seats as “safe” for one party or the other in 2008.) The mathematicians–and social scientists and lawyers–who gathered to discuss the subject Thursday are certain there’s a better way to do it. They just haven’t quite figured out what it is.
And a little math humor is always appreciated:
“The idea is that circles are the best shape for districts,” said George Washington University’s Daniel Ullman, talking about one school of thought. “Unfortunately, they don’t tessellate well.” This was apparently a joke, because the room burst out laughing. For the rest of the afternoon, the word tessellate never failed to produce giggles.