Frank and the Hyena

 From BICA (13) 1995

Frank and the Hyena*
• This article represents a "roast" that was given in honour of Professor Harary at the 255th Anniversary of Graph Theory conference in Durban. Usually roasts are restricted to Politicians, but Frank's prominence propelled him into the roast circuit.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure and an honor to introduce Frank Harary, our evening's distinguished speaker. No praise would be too much for this gentleman. No reward, for his accomplishments, would be too great. Rather than bore you with details of his uncountable achievements, I'll restrict my remarks to an event to which I personally witnessed several years ago. There are many false rumors about this episode, and they seem to be growing at an exponential rate. Further, our good colleague is too humble and modest a man to speak of them himself. So, I hope during this time we can clear the record. The problem came when Frank fell asleep during one of his own lectures. Now ordinarily, Frank is very very good about not sleeping in lectures — at least his own. But there is one instance when that is exactly what happened. This led to a terrible and painful tragedy which some of us will never forget.... But now, I'm getting ahead of my story.

It begins about ten years ago. Through diligent enumeration, Frank came a to the conclusion that every person on earth had heard him speak at least once. And so he set his attention on the animals. He started with some simple lectures at the Santa Fe Zoo, where he led the beasts step by step through all important graph theoretic results published up through 1735. Afterwards, the dear professor extended his zoo visit, hunting for snarks. He checked every single cage, and was disappointed to find hardly a single one.

Then there was that trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo. They herded the animals two-by-two into the zoo auditorium, and Frank reigned over them for forty days and forty nights .He might have taken longer, except at the end of this time, as he was presenting a Nordhaus-Gaddum type bound for the number in a graph, a ruckus developed in the balcony. (It seems that the cheap seats were reserved for the unclean animals.) A huge grizzly, who specialized in the Baire Category from his seat and taunted Frank with the most rude remarks. “Are you trying to drive us all back into hibernation?" A panda chimed in with, "this is unbearable!" Then several beasts from the Savannahs joined in with thoughtless comments about watered down giraffe theory. And a singular polecat joined in the chatter and was immediately removed. Peace was restored by the doves who felt pleased that Frank had taken the sensitive and politically correct approach when he pointed out that the pigeon hole principle was really meant to apply equally to all flying creatures. There were, however, a few birds — most notably some brightly colored jungle bird — who seemed a little peeved with frank for his failure to use one single parroty argument.

It is about this time that began making a list of all the wild animals at his lectures. And, I still don't know how he got this idea, but he cleverly arranged the list alphabetically!

One day he got in his Isuzu and drove all the way to the Kalamazoo Zoo. They actually let Frank get inside the cage with a group of harmless old boars. And I can sincerely tell you, that it makes me angry, to this very day, the way they treated you. Thinking about it, my blood just boils. I, myself have been the victim of mistaken identity. We all know it's not pleasant. But the way they left you in that smelly cage for two weeks is simply unforgivable!

Then there is a particularly embarrassing event that occurred at the Las Cruces Petting Zoo. You've all heard about what happened in the sheep pen, so we need not go into details. But as I saw the event with my own eyes, I can tell you that it simply was not Frank's fault. Blame must be clearly placed at the feet of the zoo officials, as they never fully explained the difference between "petting" and "heavy petting."

There was a small reptile zoo, really just a roadside attraction, where Frank demonstrated the vast applicability of graph theory. For the vipers, there was a simple proof of the short snake theorem. And for the adders interested in analysis, several addition theorems. Buoyed by his great success, Frank immediately flew to San Diego Sea World where he presented joint work with Professors Fisk and Fishburn showing a number of interesting theorems for Poisson distribution that follow from simple graph-theoretic results.

Within a few short years Frank's alphabetical wild animal list was nearly full. There was an aardvark, a bison, a camel, a donkey, an electric eel and so forth. But it soon became clear that the letter H would be problematic. (It is true that Frank had lectured to a horse, a homing pigeon and a house cat. But these were all on his list of animals and could not be counted as authentic wild beasts.) The situation reached near panic levels and colleagues and close friends worried about Frank's next move. And so, when the good people of Durban organized a graph theory conference, Frankk was the first to volunteer a lecture. As he put it to Professor Henda Swart, "no doubt your audience would like to hear my new characterization of non-Hamiltonian trees on four or fewer vertices."

Frank was delighted to be back in Africa. It seems that his only other visit many years before, and that was to the jungles further north; where at the invitation of Tarjan of the Apes, he worked on lion-graph problems. Some lesser minds may scoff at those results, but the fine people of Zimbabwe were so impressed, they renamed their capitol after our dear friend.

Frank's only condition for speaking at the Durban conference was that afterward he be given a ride to a hyena's den. people worried and showed great concern for Frank's safety. As Ortrud Oellerman clearly explained, "these animals have the strongest jaws of any creature on earth." Perhaps she went a little too far, but felt it needed to put it in simple, it concrete language. “These jaws could, in one single bite, rip completely through the entire Collected Rejected Works of Frank Harary." But you know, Professor Harary is not the kind of man who is persuaded by trivial details. Further, the good professor previously lectured to so many dangerous canines, he'd been nominated for a Wolf Prize.

Frank did arrive at University of Natal, and in his usual style, gave a wonderful lecture. However, his attendance at other talks was a little spotty. One rumor went around that he was seen heading off with two event thirsty parallel lions toward a pint at infinity. What is clear is that he was often in the presence of several large feline creatures, but as they were only interested in category and catastrophe theory, little in the way of joint ever publications emerged.

True to their word, the organizers provided a combi on the last day of the side conference, which took Frank out to Kruger National Park. And, a sleepy old spotted hyena was rounded up. The first half of the lecture went quite well. With his usual restraint, Frank refrained from coloring in the dots on the hyena's back. The animal sat on his haunches and gently yawned as Frank went through an anecdote about the time he nearly proved the Havel-Hakimi-Harary Theorem. "It would have been," said Frank, "the only theorem in graph theory to have three authors whose names began with 'Ha." "Ha-Ha-Ha!" chuckled the beast.

Generally, you are safe around hyenas as they will not attack human beings — as long as you stay awake. And as I mentioned, hank doesn't usually fall asleep in his own lectures. But unfortunately, the night before he'd stayed up very late, trying to impress the dean's lovely wife with the length of his resume. And so, when Frank's lids began to flutter and gently close, that hyena took a powerful lunge, and snapped right through -- well, how shall we politely say this? This is a painful issue, but as was later to remark, "that damn dog set all of graph theory back half an inch.”

Now, having an appendage nipped off is a painful and auspicious event under any circumstance. But you can rest assured, Frank Harary took it stoically. He waited patiently until the medivac helicopter arrived. He even showed some brave humor. As the stretcher was boarding the craft, a medic leaned over and asked, "are you comfortable?" To which Frank replied, "well, sales of Graphical Enumeration are way down... . but other than that, we're doing quite well."

His constant one-liners, and incessant cackling at his own jokes, deeply concerned the medical technicians. Once they became, airborne, a respirator was placed over Frank's mouth — even though it was never turned on. Despite this and a serious loss of blood, frank continued talking, removing the respirator at times to punctuate a particularly good line. "Did you hear the one about the dean that was so stupid the other deans noticed?" he quipped, then added, "Did you hear the one about the traveling salesman's problem with the farmer's daughter? Haw! It seems it is all a problem of timing!" However, after a few shots of various barbiturates, Frank slowed down, and when the chopper touched down in Cape Town, was in a deep slumber. In his sleep an angel appeared, offering proofs of the Double Cycle Cover Conjecture and the Four Color Problem — taking four paragraphs each. Later, Frank could recall meeting the angel, but not the proofs. "She had the most angelic face and the cutest little smile... oh, and talk about a heavenly body," he told me, "but I tell you, those proofs weren't worth the gold plates they were written on. Each paragraph took nearly a whole page! Who is going to be interested in such long details?"

As you know, Cape Town has the world's foremost transplant specialists and they gave particular attention to our eminent friend. They worked tirelessly, long into the night. And I can assure you, their efforts were a complete and total success.  Thanks to the skill, dedication, courage and hard work of those brilliant surgeons, I can present to you this evening Professor Frank Harary, a man with the knowledge and wisdom of a mature scholar, yet standing erect…. thanks to the toe of a twenty year old.


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