Cryptics — Chapter 1

In my previous blog post, I have announced my upcoming adventure novel and posted Chapter 0. Now I am posting Chapter 1 below.

Cryptics — Chapter 1

Chapter Title: STEM Career Day

Chapter Subtitle: “Some mathematician has said pleasure lies not in discovering truth, but in seeking it”

It is early morning March 19th 2018 in Los Altos, California. Bitcoin price is oscillating between $10,000 and $11,000. Middle school students are getting ready to attend the STEM career day at their Junior High School in Los Altos.

Student1 (S1) is an 8th grade White American girl, living with her single mom. She woke up at 5:30am, perfectly organized her bed and her room, exercised 30 minutes and is having Acai-berry bowl breakfast with caffeine-free green tea. She looks through her kitchen window and notices a slightly drizzly weather.

It’s 7:00am and her mom just woke up, took a quick shower and is applying herself a heavy makeup sitting in front of a dressing table with a large mirror. It is 7:30am. Mom is still applying makeup. Every couple of minutes, mom is looking up, pouting her lips and taking a selfie with her iPhone (with a diamond studded pink case) and then applying even more makeup.

S1 is picking up her socks from a sock drawer next to her mom’s dressing table. “1…., 2…., 3…., 4…., 5”, she counts, as she picks up five socks. She selects two socks of the same color and throws the rest in the drawer.

Mom: Looking confused… “Why don’t you pick socks like normal people. Why do you always pick five first.

S1:I have socks of four different colors. I am using Pigeon-hole principle.

Mom:Pigeon what ? It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand you, day by day. I don’t know where you are learning these things from.”

S1:Internet Mom. It’s not just for selfies and hookups.

Mom turns her head towards S1 for a second and gets back to applying lipstick.

S1 opens a large closet, full of shoes and chooses a pair of slip-resistant Skechers. The shoes have a rubber sole with a very distinct interlocked tread pattern. She wears her socks and shoes, picks her school bag and steps out of her house. Her mom, finally done with her makeup, stands at the door waving to her. Her friend, Student2 (S2), an 8th grade African American girl, just reached there.

S1: “Hey Laine.”

Laine: “Hey Polymath.”

Polymath’s mom: “Laine ? Polymath ? What are these names ? What’s wrong with your real names ?”

Polymath: “We use pseudonyms, mom… hmm… you know… for Privacy reasons.”

Mom: Shaking her head in confusion, raising her voice, “take care and be careful on the way to school”. She goes inside the house and shuts the door.

Polymath and Laine tighten their backpacks to their shoulders, tighten their shoelaces and stand next to each other on the sidewalk facing towards the direction of their school.

Laine:So, you want to do it again ?

Polymath:Any time”.

Laine:1…, 2…, 3…, GO!!

They start running towards their school. It is a tight race for more than a mile. Laine is slightly ahead. They enter a wet private road leading into the school campus. Laine slows down a bit, worried of slipping. Polymath runs faster with extra energy with longer leaps on the wet surface, enters the campus and runs towards a perfectly sculptured stone statue of Leonhard Euler, standing on a tall square podium. The equation e^{i.Pi}+1 = 0 is written on the podium in large letters. Both Laine and Polymath touch the podium…. 5 seconds apart.

Polymath: Fist pumping, “Yess…. I win again.

Laine:That was close. I am getting better. I will beat you soon.

Polymath:Keep dreaming.

Jennifer, school’s Vice Principal, waves at Laine and Polymath and says “We need to talk”.

Doc’s car is driving itself from Menlo Park to the middle school in Los Altos. Doc is on the back passenger seat typing something on his 17-inch custom-built linux laptop. He is in his usual attire with only one change i.e., lace-less white Skechers, dark blue jeans, an unbuttoned dark blue blazer on top a royal blue unzipped sleeveless hoodie on top of a white Duran Duran Rio t-shirt. He is editing source code written in a new programming language in an emacs editor. The car reaches the school and parks itself in a large open parking lot, far away from all the other cars completely avoiding the sight of all the video cameras installed on the school campus.

Car:Doc. We are here.

Doc quickly types something in the emacs editor, saves it and runs a bash script in a terminal, waits for couple of seconds, closes the laptop and secures it in a hidden place under the from driver’s seat.

Doc:Wait here and lock all the doors securely. My entire life’s work is in the trunk.

Car:I know Doc. Have a nice day. See you soon.

Doc gets out of the car and walks toward the school. A light blue Samsonite spinner luggage bag (with custom modifications) slides itself out from the passenger seat. The car’s doors close and new layer of dark-colored glasses slide up, securely covering all the car’s windows. Doc is walking towards the school. The luggage bag is rolling autonomously, following Doc’s footsteps.

The entrance of the school is decorated with balloons. There is a large sign reading ‘STEM Career Day 2018’.

At the school reception desk, Jennifer is talking to Laine and Polymath.

Jennifer:You both transferred from Cupertino, right?! We still haven’t received your 7th grade graduation certificates and grade sheets. Can you remind your previous school to mail them to us? Here is our mailing address.

Jennifer hands out a business card with the school’s mailing address to Laine.

Laine:I will remind them again. Do you need the physical papers ? I have photos of my graduation certificate and grade sheets on my phone. Isn’t there a way to verify these.”, showing her iPhone to Jennifer.

Doc is walking towards the reception desk. He is limping at exactly 2 degrees to his left.

Jennifer: Looking at Doc, “Welcome to the STEM Career day, Dr. Kintali.” Looking at his knee, “Did you hurt your knee ?

Doc:Surfing accident”, quickly dismissing her question, “Where is my classroom ?

Jennifer: Looking at a large retracable standing banner with all the scheduled talks, “Your talk starts in 10 minutes. It is in room 3141.” Looking at Polymath and Laine, “Hey Kids, Can you take Dr. Kintali to our breakfast room and then to room 3141.

Polymath:Sure.

Doc, Polymath and Laine are walking towards the breakfast room.

Laine:I hate it when people call me a kid. I am in 8th grade now

Doc:Yeah. I know how that feels.

Polymath: In the breakfast room, “Do you want any breakfast ? There are donuts, sandwiches…

Doc: Interrupting Polymath, “No Thanks. This breakfast is unhealthy.

Polymath:Coffee ?

Doc:No. I don’t drink coffee. Coffee has only one positive effect and more than ten side effects.

Polymath:We are the same, you and I. Very health conscious.

Laine rolls her eyes.

Polymath:Do you want tea ?

Doc:I only drink Hibiscus tea…

Polymath and Laine search the breakfast room for hibiscus tea bags.

Doc:…freshly made from loose Hibiscus leaves”, stressing on the word ‘loose’, “I don’t like tea bags.

Laine: Losing her patience, “We don’t have loose hibiscus tea leaves here. Let us take you to the classroom now.

Student3 (S3) is an Indian American boy in his 7th grade. It’s 7am. He is checking stock charts and writing python code on his large multi-monitor desktop setup with tens of hard drives and special-purpose GPUs, in his parents garage. It is 7:30am. He runs his trading algorithm written in Python programming language. It outputs three stock ticker symbols. He quickly places the buy orders on all three stocks, grabs his backpack, locks the garage door with three heavy-duty locks and runs towards the school.

Doc enters the classroom, takes out a huge stack of t-shirts from his Samsonite spinner luggage bag and places them on a table at the entrance of the class room 3141. They are dark green T-shirts with only one large mathematical curve (shown on the cover of this book) printed on the front. The empty luggage bag autonomously rolls itself towards the parking lot.

The classroom is very noisy with more than fifty 7th and 8th grade students, entering the classroom, moving around, chatting with each other, as they try to settle down in their chairs. S3 sits in the front row. Polymath and Laine sit next to each other in the third row.

Student4 (S4) is a slightly overweight White American male 7th grade student. He quickly walks in, finds his way to the back of the classroom in a hurry, grabs a seat, crosses his hands on the desk, puts his head comfortably on his hands and quickly goes into deep sleep.

Doc: Raising his voice, “How many of you like puzzles ?”

More than 30 hands go up, as the noise in the room slowly subsides.

Doc: “What’s the most famous open puzzle you have heard of ?”

S3: Raising his hand with excitement, “Riemann Hypothesis… Clay Mathematics Institute announced $1M prize to anyone resolving Riemann Hypothesis.”

Polymath: “Yes”. Looking at S3 and then looking at Doc, “They announced $1M each for seven long-standing open problems, but Poincare conjecture was recently resolved. So there are still six left.”

Doc: Surprised at their knowledge, “Today you will see a different kind of puzzle. It’s solution is worth $10 Billion”.

Several students gasped. “Did he say billion”“with a B”… some students mumbled to each other.

Doc: “How many of you.. heard of Bitcoin ?”

Around 20 students (including Polymath, Laine and S3) raise their hands. Some of them partially raise their hands with hesitation.

Doc: “What is it ?”

Several students started answering simultaneously.

“It’s like money… on the Internet” said one student.

“It is used on the dark web to buy illegal drugs. My mom said she will diswon me, if I ever use Bitcoin.” said another. The class room bursts with laughter.

Laine: “It is like a peer to peer currency and… you don’t need any bank accounts and…”

Another student: Interrupting Laine, “It is like a stock and…. you can buy it and sell it.”

Laine: “and… it uses cryptography and…lots of computers and…. ”

Another another student: Interrupting Laine, “It is illegal to use Bitcoin”

Another student: “no it is not illegal”

Another another student: “do you know… one guy went to jail”

Laine: “and…. all governments hate it…. but they don’t know how to stop it…and…”

Doc looks around the classroom with a mixture of joy and excitement and picks up a chalk.

Doc: “Let’s start with the basics….”, as he writes ‘One-way cryptographic hash functions’ on the blackboard.

Some students open their notebooks and start taking notes carefully.

15 minutes go by….

Doc: Pointing to a diagram on the board, “Note that we are mapping an infinite set to a finite set of hash values, so there must be collisions… by Pigeon-hole principle….”

Polymath raises her eyebrow and pays extra attention.

15 more minutes go by….

Doc: “and… they are called miners. There are tens of thousands of them. Anyone from anywhere in the world can become a miner.”

S3 sticks up his head with pride.

Laine whispers to her neighbor Polymath, “see… nobody can stop these miners”.

15 more minutes go by….

Doc: “…and that’s how you can verify your school graduation certificates on the Blockchain securely and instantaneously, preserving privacy.”

Laine and Polymath look at each other with surprise and relief.

15 more minutes go by….

Doc: Puts down the chalk on the edge of the blackboard, concluding his talk, “One last thing…. I am not Satoshi. So, DO NOT follow me for my private keys.”

Some students laugh, others look confused. S4 wakes up, stretches his arms lazily and whispers “what is a private key ?” to his neighbor while still yawning.

Jennifer enters the classroom. She was waiting at the door for the last 10 minutes. She says in loud voice “What do you say children ?

All the students loudly in unison, “Thank you…. Dr. Kintali”.

As the students are walking out of the classroom, in a line, they are picking up the t-shirts one by one. S4 is the last in the line and misses the t-shirt. A fellow student points finger at S4 and says “Ha…ha!”, like Nelson Muntz from ‘The Simpsons’. Disappointed S4 starts looking around to find Doc and get a t-shirt.

Polymath and Laine are trying to find Doc.

Polymath:Where is Doc ? Find him and I will be back in a minute”, runs towards her home.

Laine and S3 run into each other, wandering around the campus, trying to find Doc.

S3:There he is… at the end of the parking lot. Talking to another student

Doc is explaning something to another student S5, a White American girl in her 7th grade. Laine and S3 try to join their conversation.

Doc: Looking at them, “Do you have a question ?

Laine:Well….

Polymath comes running with a tall cup of hibiscus tea and hands it to Doc.

Polymath:I made it with loose hibiscus leaves.

Doc: “Thank you. Where did you get it ?”

Laine: “She lives near by… and she can run very fast”

Polymath: Looking at Doc, “So we are wondering…. what is the $10 Billion puzzle ?

Doc:If you paid attention in my class, you already know what it is ?

S4 comes walking lazily and joins the conversation. Now there are five students surrounding Doc.

Laine takes out her notebook and flips the pages one by one.

Laine:I noted down everything…. where is the puzzle ?” pointing the book towards Polymath and then looking at Doc.

Docs looks at all the five students, drinks a sip of the hibiscus tea and says “You knowSome mathematician has said pleasure lies not in discovering truth, but in seeking it.”, steps into his car and the car drives away.

Laine: Staring at other students, “What does that mean ?

S4: Interrupting Laine, “Did you all get t-shirts ? I missed it

S5: Smiling at S4, “Here… take mine” hands over her t-shirt to him.

Polymath: Looking at Laine, “That means we have to first figure out the puzzle ourselves and then solve it ourselves.

S4: “That’s too much work. I am leaving”, looking at S5, “Thanks for the t-shirt” and walks away quickly.

S5:He seems to be in a hurry.

S3: “My cousin went to Princeton. He was in one of Doc’s courses, ‘COS-340: Reasoning About Computation’. He said… that course had lots of very challenging puzzles. He said… Doc never gives clues to any puzzles or homework problems….”

Laine, Polymath and S5 look at S3 with intrigue.

S3: “… and one time in March 2015, he gave five problems in a homework assignment. Everyone on campus scratched their heads for weeks and nobody solved anything. On April 1 2015, he revealed in his class that all the five problems are long-standing open problems in Theoretical Computer Science… and the homework is an April fool’s prank on the students. One of the problems asked them to ‘find a polynomial-time algorithm to Traveling Salesman Problem’.”

Laine: Rolling her eyes, “Sheesh….That’s very cruel… and mean.”.

It’s lunch time. Polymath and Laine are in the school lunch room, eagerly flipping through Laine’s notes, looking for the $10 Billion puzzle. S3 and S5 try to join them.

S5: “We haven’t introduced ourselves yet.”

Laine: “I am Laine and this is Polymath. We have known each other since first grade. And those are our nicknames, we never use our real names in public.”

S5: “Hmm… pseudonyms ?”

Polymath: Raising her head, “We have always been a very high-performing students throughout our careers….”

S3: “careers ?”

Polymath: “If you want to hang out with us, there are three conditions. First, we don’t like lazy people. You have to be quick and energetic. Second, you need pseudonyms”, looking at S3 and S5.

S5: Quickly raising her hand, “Ok. I choose Talia as my pseudonym.”

S3: “I choose… I choose…”

Polymath, Laine looking at S3, “be quick”

S3: “Lucky….. Call me Lucky.”

Polymath: “And third, you need to answer all these 25 math puzzles correctly”, emphasizing on ‘all’, looking at Laine.

Laine takes out two booklets from her backpack, hands them to Lucky and Talia.

Talia: “An entrance exam ? to qualify to hangout with you two ?”

Lucky: “What the…”

Laine: “Take it or leave it….you 7th grade kids.”, emphasizing on ‘kids’, “You have 30 minutes. Your time starts now. Nobody has ever solved any of our puzzles, since our first grade.”

Lucky and Talia quickly pick up the booklets, go to two different corners of the lunch room and frantically start solving the math puzzles.

After 15 minutes, Talia gives her booklet with her answers to Polymath. Five minutes later, Lucky gives his booklet with his answers to Laine.

Polymath and Laine go through the answers carefully, while Talia and Lucky sit in front of them with fingers crossed. Both Talia and Lucky get all the answers correct. Talia’s answers are short and precise. Lucky’s answers are long and verbose.

Polymath and Laine: Looking impressed, “Finally, we found someone. Welcome to the group.”

As they are all high-fiving each other, the class bell rings loudly. Their lunch break is over. Polymath, Laine and Lucky get up, to go to their classrooms, while Talia is still sitting at the table, staring at a large painting of Mona Lisa on the wall.

Polymath: Looking at Talia, “Are you not attending your class ?”

Talia: “Classes will dull your mind. Destroy the potential for authentic creativity.”

Polymath: “A Beautiful Mind.”, says quickly.

Talia: “Finally… someone can understand my movie references.”

Laine: Rolling her eyes, “Great. Now we have two movie nerds in our group. That’s two too many”.

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Shiva Kintali

Shiva Kintali

Founder & CEO True Dat. Mathematician, Cryptographer, Ex-Princeton Lecturer preventing & detecting fake photos, videos & misinformation using AI & Blockchain.