It's the last question
on my oral exam
to get my M.Sc.
. So far, I've been doing reasonably well, giving solid answers to easy questions. And I get another easy question.
"What's the Riemann Hypothesis?" asks the scariest of my 3 examiners. "We're not asking you to prove it, just to formulate it," he adds, injecting some humour into the situation.
Note to non-mathematicians: The Riemann Hypothesis is the most important open question in Mathematics. Nobody knows how to prove it.
Unwittingly, I start stepping towards my doom. I've been really tense up till now, and I just have to crack another lame joke. It's unbearable that the last humourous word on the subject won't be mine. "Which don't you want me to prove?" I ask, "the special Riemann Hypothesis or the general Riemann Hypo...?"
In panic, I remember what I've been ignoring all along: While I stand a fair chance of formulating the special Riemann Hypothesis reasonably well and maybe showing something easy about it, I haven't the slightest clue what the general Riemann Hypothesis is! And one of the people in the room is an expert on number theory!
My brain finally in gear, my teeth clench down on my tongue. The maneuver hurts, but achieves its purpose: all sound from my larynx ceases abruptly, and they never hear the word "general".
I stumble through a formulation for the Riemann Hypothesis. I answer the obvious question. I am home free!