9 people who make doing math look cool

I’ve never been good at math. But that’s because math has never been good to me.

In second grade, while my peers were cruising through long division with comfort and confidence, I was still sheepishly stumbling through multiplication tables. In college, I dropped a math course after scoring a 26 percent on the midterm. I was trying.

Though I can appreciate math and respect it and trust it as a concept, I still live with a palpable hatred for it. It’s not math itself that I loathe — I just fiercely despise the act of doing it.

But we live in divisive times. Healing requires empathy. Reconciliation can only begin by attempting to understand the perspectives of our adversaries.

So, here’s my attempt to understand math: I’ve whittled the whole field down to three primary practices, then identified three practitioners from each field who make doing math look cool.


John Dewey

  • Responsible for creating the Dewey Decimal System. Without him, libraries would be nothing but chambers of chaos. Imagine it: Desperate scholars climbing over toppled stacks, frantically digging through heaps of disorganized literature. Reference texts wedged between Harry Potter titles. Graphic novels scattered among Aesop classics. Chaucer touching Tiger Beat, Joyce mingling with Berenstain Bears — truly, a librarian’s worst nightmare.
  • Mathematician Scorecard: 7.6/10

David Krumholtz

  • Specifically for his role in the hit CBS crime drama NUMB3RS, which I have never seen. Still, Krumholtz had a profound influence on my childhood in his role as “Agitated Jewish Elf” in The Santa Clause. Delightful.
  • Mathematician Scorecard: 8.3/10

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz

  • I couldn’t think of any more regular mathematicians, so I Googled this one. According to Wikipedia, this guy was the co-inventor of a sub-category of calculus called “infinitesimal calculus.” I can only assume it’s a type of never-ending calculus, and that sounds like my hell.
  • Mathematician Scorecard: 6/10



  • Gandalf had a cosmic affinity for odds and probability. He was a no-holds-barred, high-stakes gambler who placed the fate of Middle-earth on the frumpy sad-boy shoulders of Frodo Baggins and somehow still came out on top. Plus, he reincarnated himself, and even Jesus needed help from his dad to do that.
  • Mathmagician Scorecard: 9.4/10

Jesus Christ

  • Anybody who can wave a hand over an old bucket of well water and turn it into barrel-aged Cabernet gets an A+ in my book. But it wasn’t this feat that landed the JC a spot in the top three: Jesus’ greatest conquest on the arithmetic frontier was and will always be convincing millions of people that 40 days and 40 nights are somehow different than just 40 full days.
  • Mathmagician Scorecard: 9.7/10

My Great-Grandfather Habib

  • Habib lost a thumb in a factory incident. When I was a kid, he’d pull me aside and perform that one trick old folks like to perform for gullible (dumb!) children: Using the index finger and the right thumb, Habib would pretend to pull his left thumb off of his hand, wiggle it around in his closed right fist and then restore the thumb back to its socket. You know the trick. Except, Habib never did put his thumb back on, because it was just a stump of a knuckle. It was gross. It was wild. It was thumb magic.
  • Mathmagician Scorecard: 10/10


Walter White

  • The Breaking Bad protagonist is a methmagician mainstay. Walter White was not only an exceptional mathematician in his capacity as a high school chemistry teacher, but he really excelled in the lucrative methamphetamine manufacturing industry, of which he became kingpin. He was also good murdering and cooking bacon for his son, Walt Jr.
  • Methmagician Scorecard: 9/10

John F. Kennedy

  • POTUS 35 used to get injections of animal blood and meth administered daily. It was supposed to soothe his recurring migraines, but it’s hard to believe that this particular concoction wasn’t at least partially responsible for those migraines in the first place, and possibly the real cause of his death. It does sound particularly mind-blowing. Regardless, this is a real thing that happened and we should be talking about it more.
  • Methmagician Scorecard: 6.9/10


  • Kevin Clash was the puppeteer who brought beloved Sesame Street character Elmo to life. Clash was also arrested for throwing a meth party in 2013. Imagine Elmo. Now imagine Elmo on meth. Not that different, right?
  • Methmagician Scorecard: 4/10
One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.