The Princeton Scale of Obviousness


Solomon Lefschetz

During the mid-1930s, when the Institute of Advanced Study and the Princeton’s Fine Hall were still sharing the same area, they had a thing called the “Princeton Scale of Obviousness”. The scales were as follows:

  • If Joseph Wedderburn says it’s obvious, everyone in the class had noticed it ten minutes ago.
  • If Frederic Bohnenblust says it’s obvious, you can see it in half an hour.
  • If John von Neumann says it’s obvious, you may prove it in three months provided that you’re a genius.
  • If Solomon Lefschetz says it’s obvious, it’s wrong.

Note: Only mathematicians (or perhaps, people who know enough mathematics) would get the references.


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My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is

8 thoughts on “The Princeton Scale of Obviousness

  1. I was the Joseph Wedderburn of our Physics A level class… The teacher would always look at me and say “Have you got that?” He knew if I got it, the rest probably had and that I would say “no” (or look very puzzled) if not – and he’d repeat it or give another explanation. However it did mean the whole class got to understand everything and we all (27 of us) passed year end the exam. (Lowest grade was a C – which wasn’t me btw. 😀)

    Liked by 3 people

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