Wrong-Way Corrigan and Yellow Pig Day

Well, we all know the story of ol’ Wrong Way (though most of what we “know” ain’t so), but of other things that happened on 17 July there are legion, including the final surrender of Napoleon at Rochefort in 1915, the founding of Harvard’s Dental School of Medicine in 1867, the execution of the Romanovs in 1918, the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Port Chicago explosion in 1944, the opening of Disneyland in 1955, and the TWA 800 explosion in 1996.  It’s also National Peach Ice Cream Day and World Emoji Day.  I can get (almost) all but that last one.

The whole world “knows” that Douglas Corrigan took off from New York on 17 July 1938 planning to go to California, but landed twenty-eight hours later in Ireland.  The sobriquet “Wrong Way” got stuck to him immediately thereafter and stuck for the rest of his life.  Trouble is, that’s not really what happened.  He wasn’t authorized to make a trans-Atlantic jump because the authorities that were in charge of such things deemed his aircraft (that he built himself) to be unsafe.  It was important for public relations reasons at that time that as few air-travel disasters as possible were enabled, and Corrigan was a fairly well-known airplane builder (he had worked on Lindberg’s Spirit)  and pilot.

The truth was that he had always planned a trans-Atlantic flight, and he was by no means the first to solo across the pond.  He took off after anyone who could stop him had gone home, turned around above the cloud deck, and headed for Ireland.  But he enjoyed more fame as a poor navigator than he did as a miscreant, so he never admitted that it was intentional.  Corrigan died in 1995, and Wrong Way Corrigan Day commemorates his achievement.

Someone is seriously going to have to explain this one to me.  Yellow Pig Day is July 17, has been since the 1960s, apparently. The way I get it, yellow pigs have seventeen eyelashes, and a couple of math geeks at Princeton named Kelley and Spivak were obsessing over the number 17…yeah.  Anyway, the two of them invented yellow pigs with seventeen toes and seventeen teeth…and on and on, and…maybe you need to be a mathematician to appreciate it. At any rate, Yellow Pig Math Days are celebrated at Hampshire College as a convocation of budding mathematicians, and are also held at various other locations to emphasize mathematics in education. As someone who always considered abstract mathematics as stupid human tricks, I don’t get it, but I don’t need to.


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