Fire Hazard

Fire HazardVisitors to the math department of Princeton University used to stop by John Conway’s office. Even if it were closed, they could peek through the window in the door to see the many beautiful, symmetric figures hanging in his office.

The figures, which John Conway had made, were there for 20 years. Just recently John received a letter informing him that his office had been inspected by the State Fire Marshall and that “those things hanging from your ceiling are against the State’s fire code and must be taken down.” The math department was worried about a possible fine.

So John threw away the “things.” I wanted to cry as I watched these huge garbage bags being taken away. I rescued several figures, but that was all that I could fit into my car. For 20 years no one complained, but now the bureaucracy has beat out beauty and mathematics.

This picture is the last view of the “hazardous” office.



  1. Felipe Pait:

    Wonder what they would have thought of my father’s studio….

  2. Anonymous Rex:

    In the middle of the year, the (Princeton) first-year graduate students acquired a bed for their office. Some time later, Health Inspector person said that violated the state’s health code. Eventually, the bed was removed.

    After the bed’s removal, the first-years slept on a wooden board on the ground instead. Was the state health code successful in its goals?

  3. misha:

    Gasp… bureaucracy will bring the end to civilization.

  4. Anonymous:

    Surely we can’t blame the bureaucracy for throwing out the mathematical artworks – John Conway did that. He could have taken them home or given them away as gifts. Maybe he could have made a lot of money selling them on ebay, since they are so famous.

  5. misha:

    Brilliant idea, he surely will do it next time if he reads this blog. Maybe entrepreneureal spirit will save civilization.

  6. David:

    Terrible… did it have to go straight to the garbage? I’m very glad that you saved some of them!

    On the other hand, I enjoyed your talk for the MIT UMA earlier this year, about lotteries. Will you be coming back to speak in the near future?

  7. Tanya Khovanova:


    I live in Boston, and I will gladly talk for the MIT UMA again. We’ll see. Nothing is scheduled yet.


  8. Steve:

    I know the feeling – I remember having to trash a lot of my organic molecule models – at least i was able to save my caffeine model 🙂

Leave a comment