Why the World’s Best Mathematicians Are Hoarding Chalk

Why the World’s Best Mathematicians Are Hoarding Chalk

October 18, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


(upbeat music) – The legend around this
chalk is that it’s impossible to write a false theorem. – I assume the special
ingredient was angel tears. – Mathematicians from all
of the top schools very frequently use it. – It’s a cult favorite. – As soon as I use it I was a convert. – The chalk is one of
the best kept secrets in the math world. – It’s the Rolls Royce of chalk. (gentle music) (chalk scratching) – Hagoromo is a brand of Japanese chalk. The way it flows on a board
is a bit hard to describe in words. – It’s really hard to get. You can only get it from
Japan, you need a Japanese person to bring it back for you. – I discovered it when I went to visit the University of Tokyo and
one of the professors there said to me, you know, we have better chalk than you do in the States
and I said, oh go on, chalk is chalk. And so I tried it out, and
I was surprised to find that he was right. – I tried it, and I
thought it was phenomenal. It’s the densest, it erases the cleanest, it leaves the nicest line. – If you use bad chalk
often you have to press really hard for anyone to
see what you’re writing so using Hagoromo on a good
board, it doesn’t really feel like you’re working hard to write. – When I’m teaching I
get a feeling of energy, confidence, and the
chalk absolutely helps. (chalk clacking) – Slowly the math world
has become aware of this, and it became a bit of
a fad in some circles. (upbeat music) – It was like maybe four
years ago the word came out that the company was
going out of business. I sort of jokingly referred
to it as a chalk apocalypse. So I immediately started
hoarding up as much as I could. – I ordered three boxes
of Hagoromo and kept it in my office and used it very sparingly. – I should’ve bought more but
I have friends that bought boxes and boxes and boxes of the stuff. They might very well be set
for the rest of their career. – We’ve got like 1,500 sticks. That’s a lot of days, four sticks a day. I think I’m gonna make it. – I have probably a 10-year
supply still at home. – I calculated how many boxes
would I need to last for 10 or 15 years. I didn’t wanna become a chalk
dealer, but I did like the idea that I could be
the first stick is free chalk dealer on the
block in my department. – I was probably selling
it regularly to maybe eight to 10 colleagues. I would reach into my
cupboard in my office and pull out another
box and we’d do the deal in my office. Yeah, we all had a chalk fix. And we still do. (gentle music) – The original Hagoromo
chalk is slowly disappearing. A few years ago, a Korean
company bought their formulas and did the best job of
faithfully reproducing it in Korea. – It was mixed emotions. I was happy to know that
it would still be made. But I was a little disappointed
that I was less clever than I thought I was. (gentle music) – In many ways mathematics
is like craftsmanship, in some ways it’s like artistry; in some ways it’s like science. But there’s a real high
craft side to getting a beautiful lecture on a blackboard. Mathematicians admire this in each other and like to use the best tools for it. – There’s incredible value
to this but the value is in using it up, not hoarding it. (gentle music)