Choose Your Own (Math) Adventure : Short Wave Ever read those Choose Your Own Adventure books of the 80s and 90s? As a kid, Dr. Pamela Harris was hooked on them. Years later she realized how much those books have in common with her field: combinatorics, the branch of math concerned with counting. It, too, depends on thinking through endless, branching possibilities. She and several students set out to write a scholarly paper in the style of Choose Your Own Adventure books. Dr. Harris tells Regina G. Barber all about how the project began, how it gets complicated when you throw in wormholes and clowns, and why math is fundamentally a creative act.

Choose Your Own (Math) Adventure

Choose Your Own (Math) Adventure

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Futuristic red car traveling along a yellow road.
CSA Images/Getty Images/Vetta

Warning: This math paper will send you down many winding roads...

Did you ever read Choose Your Own Adventure books? The ones that took you through forbidden forests or faraway planets? As a kid, Dr. Pamela Harris loved those stories and all their forking paths.

As a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, she began to realize how much those books have in common with her field: combinatorics, the branch of math concerned with counting. It, too, depends on thinking through endless, branching possibilities. With this revelation, she and several students set out to write a scholarly article on a slice of combinatorics called "parking functions." It was a research paper in the style of Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Dr. Harris tells Regina all about how this unique project began, how it gets complicated when you throw in wormholes and clowns, and why math is fundamentally a creative act.

This episode was produced by Margaret Cirino, edited by Gabriel Spitzer and fact-checked by Brit Hanson. Stacey Abbott was the audio engineer.