Sunday, February 07, 2021

The Victoria Delfino Problems: an example of math problems named after a non-mathematician

 If you Google Victoria Delfino you will find that she is a real estate agent in LA (well, one of the Victoria Delfino's you find is such).  After this blog is posted you may well get this post on the first Google page. 

If you Google Victoria Delfino Problems you will find a paper:

The fourteen Victoria Delfino Problems and their Status in the year 2015

(ADDED LATER: a comment pointed me to an updated version, so  you can see that- I got to a pay wall.) 

How did a real estate agent get honored by having 14 problems in descriptive set theory named after her?

Possibilities before I tell you which one.

1) Real estate is her day job. Her hobby is Descriptive Set Theory. Recall that Fermat was a lawyer (or something like that- see his Wikipedia page) so perhaps she is similar. Doubtful- I think math is too hard for that now.  Or at least descriptive  set theory is too hard for that now. 

2) She just happened to remark one day, Gee, I wonder if

 ZFC + SEP(Sigma_3^1) + #   implies DET(Delta_2^1). 

Its just the kind of thing someone might just say. That was problem 4 of the 14. 

3) There are two Victoria Delfino's- one is a realtor, one is a mathematician. While plausible, that would not be worth blogging about. 

4) And now the truth: Victoria was the realtor who helped Moschovakis (a descriptive set theorist who I will henceforth describe as M) buy his house. When Tony Martin (another Desc. Set Theorist) moved to UCLA, M referred him to Victoria and she did indeed help Tony find a house. Victoria gave M a large commission which he tried to turn down. She did not want it returned, so M used the money to fund five problems. Later problems were added, but for no money. The article The Fourteen... linked to above has the full story. It also has the curious line: 

Contrary to popular belief, no monetary prize is attached to further problems. 

I didn't think any of this was so well known as to have popular believes. 

ANYWAY, this is an example of a math problem named after a non-math person. Are there others? Will the name stick? Probably not- already 12 of the 14 are solved. I have noted in a prior blog (here) once a conjecture gets proven, the one who made the conjecture gets forgotten. Or in this case the person who the conjectures is named after. 

So are there other open problems in math named after non-math people? How about Theorems?

Near Misses: 

Pythagoras: Not clear what he had to do with the theorem that bears his name. 

L'hopital's Rule: the story could be a blog in itself, and in fact it is! Not mind, but someone else: here. However L'hopital was a mathematician. 

Sheldon's conjecture (see here) was named after a FICTIONAL physicist. Note that Sheldon inspired the conjecture but did not make it. It has been solved. 

The Governor's  Theorem (see here) was named because Jeb Bush was asked for the angles of a 3-4-5 right triangle (not a fair question). 

The Monty Hall Paradox.

SO- are there Open Problems, Theorems, Lemmas, any math concepts, named after non-math people? I really mean non-STEM people. If a Physicist or an Engineer or a Chemist or Biologist or...  has their name on something, that would not really be what I want.

(ADDED LATER - someone emailed me two oddly-named math things:

Belphegor's prime, see here

Morrie's law- odd since Morrie is the FIRST name of who the name is honoring, see here 


Are there any other open problems in descriptive set theory  named after realtors?


  1. Let's not forget the Clay Math Institute Millennium Problems. Landon T. Clay was a businessman who appreciated the importance of mathematics research, but not a mathematics researcher himself.

    1. Wolf Prize in Mathematics

      maybe also the Shaw Prize

    2. Beal conjecture in number theory, though as far as I know, some people don't like that name since the conjecture had been proposed before Andrew Beal offered a prize for its solution.

  2. The published version has just appeared. It is lightly updated (up to 2020).

  3. Thanks! I will update the post.