This story is implicitly referred to in the 2008 opening post of this blog.


It was high time to raise the level of the discussion, I thought. Princeton, Fall 1995. We were a group of mathematicians at the IAS lunch table, and discussing a really profound idea was called for. But I was missing a word and I asked Avi Wigderson what is the English word for a lion’s hair. Avi replied “layish”.

This was precisely what I was missing. It was time to voice my new thought:

” Isn’t it the case and isn’t it amazing that Avi’s hair looks just like a layish?”, I asked



Pierre Deligne looked busy thinking about his own business, but Enrico Bombieri looked interested and he was trying to understand what I was saying. Robert Langlands seemed to have got it –  he was nodding his head in agreement – or so I thought. I also sensed a positive reaction from Bob MacPherson.  Well, it takes time for great ideas, however simple, to get through.

But as is often the case, one great idea led to another.

Isn’t it amazing that the word “layish” means in Hebrew “a lion,” a meaning so close to the English meaning? I asked

While trying to further repeat, promote and discuss these two ideas a conflicting piece of information came to my mind. Another word for a lion’s hair in English was something like “main” or “mane”, I started to vaguely remember. When I asked Avi about it, he could not hold his laughter any longer, and the sad reality had emerged.

The second great idea was just an artifact of Avi’s juvenile behavior, a behavior that  also had a devastating effect on the presentation of the first idea. The first idea, as great as it might be,  failed to come through due to problematic notation. It should have waited for another opportunity. And now, 22 years later this opportunity has come!

The observation regarding Avi’s hair is not isolated. Nati Linial already noted in AviFest, Avi’s resemblance to the famous Georgian writer  Shota Rustaveli and mention also the resemblance to Bin Laden – a connection which was first made when Avi, shortly after 9/11, entered a stand up joint in NYC, and the comedian immediately stopped everything and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, Osama Bin Laden”! The shape of Rustaveli’s layish remains however, a mystery.

Shota Rustaveli

From Nati’s videotaped lecture

This entry was posted in Combinatorics, Computer Science and Optimization, Games, Mathematics to the rescue, Philosophy, Rationality, Sport, Taxi-and-other-stories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Layish

  1. Jon Awbrey says:

    2008 ?

    GK: Thanks, Jon, corrected

  2. Pingback: Updates and plans III. | Combinatorics and more

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  4. Gil Kalai says:

    Apparently, I reluctantly promised to tell the Layish story and other stories about Avi and me in earlier posts from 2011 and from 2015 as part of a blatant new stage of a policy to waste immediately any reputation which I may gain on this blog

  5. Sue Gilligan says:

    Dear Gil,

    Hope that all is well.

    We are trying to get hod of you re dates for Singapore in March.

    Is there a number that Eliezer could reach you on?

    Cheers Sue

    From: “” <> Reply-To: Combinatorics and more <> Date: Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 12:23 To: Sue Gilligan <> Subject: [New post] Layish

    Gil Kalai posted: “This story is implicitly referred to in the 2009 opening post of this blog. ———– It was high time to raise the level of the discussion, I thought. Princeton, Fall 1995. We were a group of mathematicians at the IAS lunch table, and discussing “

  6. Pingback: Must-read book by Avi Wigderson | Combinatorics and more

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