The 17-eyelashed yellow pig was born because two mathematicians, Michael Spivak and David C. Kelly began listing interesting properties of the number 17 while students at Princeton University in the early 1960’s.  You might say they were obsessed with the number 17.

Since that time, Michael Spivak has written many famous math textbooks which contain yellow pigs.  His references to the pigs are not always direct; some textbooks contain references to Chinese policemen.  David Kelly runs Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics, a summer program for mathematically gifted high school students.  These kids are familiar with the yellow pigs.

I have some egghead friends who collect yellow pigs.  I visit antique stores and though I don’t see them often, I am seeing the yellow pigs more often now than ever.  It seems to be the sort of item that is either recognized for what it is, or it is not.  Not everyone is familiar with the yellow pigs and their connection with mathematics.  Maybe you learned something today – I hope so.

If you don’t think math can be fun – think again.  The day is highlighted by a lecture from Kelley on the number 17. Students and faculty also sing Yellow Pig Day carols, exchange gifts related to the day and eat a yellow pig cake.  Wait…  yellow pig carols?  Yep – here’s an example:

I’ve been Workin’ on the Problems

(to the tune of I’ve Been Workin’ On the Railroad)

I’ve been workin’ on the problems
All the live long night.
I’ve been workin’ on the problems
It’s a struggle. It’s a fight.

Can’t you hear the workshops calling?
Rise up so early in the dorm.
Can’t you hear the lemmas falling?
Burnside, Gauss, and Zorn.

Chorus (2x):
Kelly, dontcha know
Kelly, dontcha know
Kelly, dontcha know
Kelly, dontcha know you’re wrong

Someone in the kitchen at Saga
Someon in the kitchen I know
Someone in the kitchen at Sa-ga
Pourin’ on the salt like snow…

And… sing… in’…
What the hell do you know?
Suppose that any n pigs are yellow
Induct on n to show…
Induction’s false, so it goes.


Well – enjoy YELLOW PIG DAY!!!  😉