Let's raise a toast to mathematicians! Plus: Wedding tips for pretty much everybody.


August might go down as one of the greatest months ever for mathematics. First a reclusive Russian solved the 100-year-old Poincaré conjecture. Then a pair of University of Missouri professors discovered a solution to the "cocktail party problem," proving that it's possible to differentiate and separate the many voices and sounds heard during social gatherings.

Unreal: What an exciting time for math!

Professor Peter Casazza: Yes. But our finding is not of the same dimension of Poincaré. The math is not so deep. We're probably not going to win a prize.

Well, we've got to admit, we always thought the "cocktail party problem" was when men outnumbered women — a.k.a. "the sausage party problem."

Oh, no! This was actually first known as the "air-traffic control problem," because back in the 1950s they didn't have earphones and the flight operators had to distinguish their pilot from all the other voices coming over the speaker. Sometime in the 1960s, it changed to the "cocktail party problem," probably because it has a sexier name.

How can we put your findings to practice?

What we did was take an engineering problem, give it applied-mathematics theory and then solve it with algebraic geometry. It will take years and years for the technology behind this to hit the streets. You've got to spend hundred of millions of dollars on software to reproduce the algorithms.

Do you think you'd be invited to more cocktail parties if people understood what the hell you're talking about?

Mathematicians don't like a lot of attention. It's seen in the profession as "grandstanding." Our discovery is exciting, but then for everything I say there are probably 25 mathematicians out there who would say I'm an idiot.

So what's next? Can we expect a mathematical solution to the "beer goggles conundrum" — or better yet, the common hangover?

I'm afraid those are medical conditions. I'd suggest moderation.

We Do

Say you wanted to plant a tree at your wedding. Or walk down the aisle to A steel drum instead of an organ. One bride's idea of bliss is another bride's private hell, to be sure, but Carolyn Burke of Kirkwood (see www.weddingliaison.com) doesn't fuss over the quirkiness of the wishes. As a "wedding liaison," she simply helps execute them. After another crazy summer of our own ceremonies and getting sauced, Unreal checked in with Burke to see how her season stacked up.

Unreal: How long have you been in the wedding business?

Carolyn Burke: Since 1999. I started out as a wedding coordinator at my church. That's why my specialty is in helping couples find ceremony places — I try to find those unusual locations that people don't think about, like the patio at Aqua Vin restaurant.

What's the most unusual site request you've had — like, has anybody said, "I want to get married on a bridge"?

I had a couple who owned a bowling club in New York and wanted a destination wedding. So they chose St. Louis because we have the Bowling Hall of Fame. They got married on the foul line and faced the pins. So yeah, on a bridge would not be a problem.

Anybody ever requested the Oz or one of the other fine establishments over on the east side?

No. They're not in my resource guide. It lists over 250 locations.

Would you be open to the Penthouse Club?

Absolutely. Oh, another place: the Mastodon State Historic Site. I married somebody in front of a stuffed mastodon. It was this couple that really wanted to get married outside, but it was too cold that time of year. We came up with the only indoor site, which was Mastodon State Park.

How could that have been the only indoor site available?

Because it didn't cost anything. For a five-minute ceremony, you can pretty much show up and get married. I did marry somebody, without having to sign up, at the Grand Basin in Forest Park. That was something really exciting. A lot of the times the brides try to wear something white. But a lot of times they don't have a dress.


Sure! I did one couple in Overland and they had T-shirts that said "bride" and "groom." And the best man had one that said: "If I'm the best man, why is she marrying him?" I walked in and had to remind them to turn the TV off! I always ask, "Where you going from here?" — I think they went to Outback Steakhouse.

Local Blog O' the Week

"Local [fake] sports, right from the horse's mouth"
Author: ?
About the blogger: The blogger, who reveals that he is a married man but not much else, mainly pens satirical blog entries with titles like "Chris Duncan taking batting advice from Ron Gant" and "Tkachuk: I pee sitting down." An exception is the entry excerpted below, which he claims is true.
Recent Highlight (August 29): One of stlsports' draft parties was this past weekend, and in this league a draft party tradition is to nominate the team owner who makes the worst pick of any given round to serve as the ‘Beer Bitch' for the next round. The term beer bitch is simply defined as the guy who is responsible for keeping everyone else's beer at optimal volumes. At the conclusion of the draft, the team owner with the most votes throughout the draft was made the Beer Bitch for the remainder of the evening, which consisted of a barbeque, drunken wiffleball, poker and video gaming.

The draft went well, and several managers made several bad decisions throughout the evening. As the draft wound down, it appeared that the grand poobah Beer Bitch for the night would be one of three particularly inept individuals. In the interest of keeping the identities of these people hidden, and thus preventing the shame and opprobrium that comes with such a title, fake names have been created. For Josh, we will call him Cupcake. For Chris, how about Dumpling. And for Mike, the perennial league doormat and regular behind-the-woodshed victim, let's go with, oh I don't know, Flapjack.

Of particular concern for Flapjack was that he had received Beer Bitch votes very consistently, even when he had made a good pick. He even managed to get votes for a draft round for which he did not have a pick. This raised suspicions of collusion amongst managers, as well as a vendetta from those with whom he would not trade. Flapjack's plan was simple: get so stupidly drunk that he would be too incapacitated to perform his duties. The plan worked, partially.

Know of an Unreal-worthy local blog?
Send the URL to [email protected].

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