Perhaps you’ve been working for a long period of time and you’re suddenly craving some nuts. Oh, how convenient, there happens to be a container of mixed nuts next to you. But as you open the lid, you make a horrifying discovery – all those large, pesky Brazil nuts have wormed their way to the top (unless you love Brazil nuts in which case it will be a more pleasing discovery).
You’re struggling on a difficult problem, trying to rack your brains around how to approach it. However, every path you try leads to a dead-end, leaving you shaking your fists in frustration. Casting your attention elsewhere, you notice a flock of birds flying past outside your window. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the solution strikes you and you want to cry out in joy. But what word could possibly fit the occasion?
As with many technical terms in mathematics, the word brachistochrone originates from the Greek for ‘shortest time’. This curve has been rightly named, as you’ll see.
Yanhao strides into the classroom, wielding a half-full (optimism ftw) plastic bottle of water by the neck. Positioning himself at the front of the room, he takes up a stance of utter concentration and determination, eyes directly pointedly at a spot on the front desk. With a single intake of breath, the room falls into silence as it anticipates the magnitude of the feat it is about to witness. The teacher clasps cupped hands over their mouth, barely stifling a shocked gasp. As Yanhao shuts his eyes, one singular bead of sweat trickles down the length of his neck. In one fell swoop of his arm, he chucks the bottle up into the air. It pirouettes, landing elegantly on its base with barely a wobble. The silence explodes into madness.
Of course, this was only attempt #1003.
The world seems to be getting a smaller and smaller as transport becomes more and more efficient. Although a plane could take us to the other side of the world in under forty-eight hours, the cost is the main deterrent. As a physicist I am obliged to think of other options (however theoretical).