July 17th is Yellow Pig Day, a day that originated in the early 1960s when mathematicians Michael Spivak and David C. Kelly were students at Princeton University. The pair began listing the properties of the number 17 and their thoughts somehow led them to create the Yellow Pig, a mythical creature with 17 toes, 17 teeth, and 17 eyelashes. Over the decades the Yellow Pig has become totem for mathematicians everywhere, appearing in many textbooks written by Spivak and inspiring Yellow Pig celebrations in institutions across the United States. During Yellow Pig Day festivities participants are encouraged to let their imaginations run wild, often resulting in the creation of Yellow Pig shirts, the exchange of Yellow Pig knick knacks, the eating of Yellow Pig cake, and the singing of Yellow Pig carols.
One of my geekiest characteristics is the fact that I love math. I took college calculus during my senior year of high school and earned a 100% in the class. Plus, I loved it. I briefly considered a career in math, but went on to study other subjects instead. Today I can barely remember how to do long division, but I secretly hope that my offspring turn out to be math geeks too, just so I have an opportunity to re-learn everything I’ve forgotten alongside them. Although I could only think of one property of the number 17 (that it’s a prime number), something about today’s “unofficial” spoke to my inner geek.
Chris and I decided to celebrate Yellow Pig Day by letting our imaginations run wild. We didn’t sing any carols or eat Yellow Pig cake, but we each decided to create drawings in honor of Yellow Pig Day. Chris was tasked with drawing a Yellow Pig of our very own — complete with 17 iterations of various body parts. And I must admit that his illustration came out both wonderful, and strangely disturbing. I, on the other hand, decided to create a drawing that celebrated our favorite number: we’ve both had an inexplicable preference for the number 8 since childhood, long before we ever met. I ended up creating a Green Chinchilla (go figure) with 8 ears, 8 legs, 8 tails, 8 eyes, and a total of just 8 eyelashes — definitely a little peculiar. This strange little exercise has reminded me that math can in fact be fun and creative. Now if I could just figure out that long division, maybe I’d be up for a bigger challenge!