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Elizabeth McMahon and Gary Gordon, both professors of mathematics, published a lighthearted article in the August/September 2001 issue of Focus, the newsletter of the Mathematical Association of America, about a mathematical painting scheme they employed for their garage doors.

When they moved into their Easton home in 1986, McMahon and Gordon inherited a gray roof and siding and two white garage doors, the article notes. “The four of us (two mathematicians and two daughters) came to the same conclusion: The exterior of our house needed something colorful to cheer up the neighborhood.”

As constructed, the doors each have 16 rectangular panels, which were painted into a pattern that mathematicians term “orthogonal four-by-four Latin squares.” (An explanation of this concept can be found at .) Once daughters Rebecca and Hannah picked teal and purple, respectively, light blue and dark blue were added as paint colors during a trip to the hardware store. “Our helpful salesman mixed the paints after feigning interest in a short lecture in combinatorics,” relates the article.

Reaction has been almost unanimously positive. “Neighbors are surprisingly tolerant of our mathematical home improvement,” say McMahon and Gordon. “Without painting numbers, equations or theorems, we helped spice up the street and we also made it much easier to give directions to our house: ‘look for the colorful garage doors.’ One of us offers a prize for anyone (excluding mathematicians) who can figure out the pattern; no one has claimed it yet.”

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