Subject: Re: Hanoi Tower
Date: Sun, 8 Jun 1997 22:58:48 -0400
From: Alexander Bogomolny

Dear Michael:

I just finished reading a poem by the great English mathematician of the 19th century J. Sylvester. (He also claimed that on average mathematicians live longer.) So it ought not be a great surprise that E. Lucas invented the puzzle and furnished a story to sell along. He was a good mathematician.

The fact is mentioned in several books:

  1. Graham, Knuth, Patashnik, Concrete Mathematics, p1.
  2. Gardner, Hexaflegons and Other Mathematical Diversions, p57.
  3. Wells, The Penguin Book of Curious and Interesting Puzzles, p64.

On the other hand, in a Computer Science book

Tremblay, Sorensen, An Introduction to Data Structures with Applications, p183

it's claimed that the problem "has a historical basis in the ritual of the ancient Tower of Brahma."

I never heard claimed that computer scientists on average have longer or happier lives. Would not depend on the last quotation.

However, on the web I found this paragraph:

"Tower of Hanoi Puzzle was invented in 1883 by Edouard Lucas, a French mathematician. This puzzle was originally sold as a toy, and was described as a simplified version of the Tower of Brahma.

"The legend has it that the mythical Tower of Brahma, in the Indian city of Benares, has a post with 64 gold discs stacked in decreasing sizes. These discs are said to be moved, one at a time, by the priests of the Hindu temple from the original post to one of the other two posts, with a larger disc never being placed on top of a smaller disc. It was said that by the time all 64 discs have been transferred to another post in the original order, the temple will crumble to dust and the earth would disappear."

Which seems to confirm the historical roots.

Alex Bogomolny

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