My Dream: How to Trisect an Angle With a Chainsaw, by Arjen Lenstra

OK, other people's dreams are boring. Dreams are weird: we get that. This one is short, and maybe a bit different.

I dreamt I was visiting Bell Labs, outside on the front lawn. Someone told me that Arjen Lenstra was giving a talk in a few minutes in a nearby outdoor lecture hall, entitled "On Trisecting the Angle With a Chainsaw." It was raining.

I don't know much math, but I believe that it has been proved that you can't trisect an angle using the geometry tools specified by the Greeks. I probably won't understand the talk, but Arjen Lenstra is a world-class cryptographer and mathematician, and any math lecture involving a chainsaw ought to be worth a shot.

I sat over on one side of the lecture hall. I don't believe I've ever met the man, so the speaker was sort of a composite of all the Nederlanders I have met.

He started, writing things on the white board involving determinants. I zoned out immediately, noting that there was about 4 inches of ice cold water on the ground, yet curiously my sneakers were floating on top of the water, despite the weight of my legs. I shouldn't push down on the shoes.

My reverie was interrupted by the sound of a chainsaw. Lenstra was out of sight, behind the stage, sawing something. He turned off the chainsaw and marched back into sight carrying it, declaring: "That's how you trisect the angle with a chainsaw." The crowd started dispersing. Dammit, I wanted to get a sense of what he was saying, so I went up to ask.

"I did not get the math in your presentation. Can you give me a quick layman's take on it?" He put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, "Ches," (cool: he knows me), "it works like this."

Then I woke up.

I was probably as disappointed as you are now. But I realized what had happened. I had backed my personal dream director into a corner. I really wanted to hear the talk, but was demanding it from myself. I have no idea how to trisect an angle with a chainsaw, so my personal dream director bailed out.