On Friday, June 17, Japan’s second most-read newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, ran a full-page story on Knot Theory!!! Because of the sudden media exposure, I’ve been getting e-mails from family in Japan like studying Knot Theory makes me some kind of a celebrity. I’m sure it’s the same for every Knot Theorist who’s lived there- we’re enjoying our 15 minutes of fame right now.
The story is occasioned by the release of a fun computer game based on a theorem of Ayaka Shimizu. Ayaka is a member of Akio Kawauchi’s Knot Theory group at OCAMI. The theorem appears in her preprint Region crossing change is an unknotting operation.
At a seminar in Osaka City University, Kengo Kishimoto suggested the “region crossing change” as an unknotting move. A knot diagram divides a plane up into regions, and a region crossing change is a move which changes all crossings adjacent to a region.
Ayaka was able to show that any knot diagram can be untied using region crossing changes. But she also showed that any knot diagram can be made positive by region crossing changes. This was recently extended by Cheng Zhiyun and Gao Hongzhu to 2-component links with even linking number.
So what do you do with a beautiful result like that? Kawauchi, Shimizu, and Kishimoto turned it into an addictive computer game! I must say, their game is the most fun game I’ve seen come out of topology. Watch out Tetris! This game is fun, and you don’t need to know any topology in order to play it. The goal is to colour all crossings “red” (i.e. positive crossing) by region crossing changes. Play and give it to your cousins and uncles and aunts to play!
To play the game click HERE.
Asahi Shimbun picked up that this was an amazing new gaming idea, and took the opportunity to run a full-page spread on Knot Theory. Their article does an amazing job of selling us, with sentences like “not only is knot theory a fascinating modern area of research, but the power and simplicity of its methods have captured the attention of chemists and biologists the world over.”
I vote this article as one of the best media exposures mathematics has ever had. Congratulations to the OCAMI crew for pulling this off!