Piet Hein (scientist)

Piet Hein

Piet Hein (Kumbel) in front of the H.C. Andersen statue in Kongens Have, Copenhagen
Born (1905-12-16)16 December 1905
Copenhagen, Denmark
Died 17 April 1996(1996-04-17) (aged 90)
Funen, Denmark
Known for Puzzles, poems

Piet Hein (16 December 1905 – 17 April 1996) was a Danish mathematician, inventor, designer, author, and poet, often writing under the Old Norse pseudonym "Kumbel" meaning "tombstone". His short poems, known as gruks or grooks (Danish: gruk), first started to appear in the daily newspaper "Politiken" shortly after the Nazi occupation in April 1940 under the pseudonym "Kumbel Kumbell".[1]

Brief biography

Hein, a direct descendant of Piet Pieterszoon Hein, the 17th-Century Dutch naval hero, was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. He studied at the Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of Copenhagen (later to become the Niels Bohr Institute), and Technical University of Denmark. Yale awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1972. He died in his home on Funen, Denmark in 1996.


Piet Hein, who, in his own words, "played mental ping-pong" with Niels Bohr[2] in the inter-War period, found himself confronted with a dilemma when the Germans occupied Denmark. He felt that he had three choices: Do nothing, flee to "neutral" Sweden or join the Danish resistance movement. As he explained in 1968, "Sweden was out because I am not Swedish, but Danish. I could not remain at home because, if I had, every knock at the door would have sent shivers up my spine. So, I joined the Resistance."[3]

Taking as his first weapon the instrument with which he was most familiar, the pen, he wrote and had published his first "grook" (gruk in Danish). It passed the censors who did not grasp its real meaning.


Losing one glove
is certainly painful,
but nothing
compared to the pain,
of losing one,
throwing away the other,
and finding
the first one again.

The Danes, however, understood its importance and soon it was found as graffiti all around the country. The deeper meaning of the grook was that even if you lose your freedom ("losing one glove"), do not lose your patriotism and self-respect by collaborating with the Nazis ("throwing away the other"), because that sense of having betrayed your country will be more painful when freedom has been found again someday.

Piet Hein's superegg in brass

After Liberation, Scandinavian architects, tired of square buildings but cognizant that circular buildings were impractical, asked Piet Hein for a solution. Applying his mathematical prowess to the problem, Piet Hein proposed to use the superellipse which became the hallmark of modern Scandinavian architecture.

In addition to the thousands of grooks he wrote, Piet Hein devised the games of Hex, Tangloids, Tower, Polytaire, TacTix, Nimbi, Qrazy Qube, Pyramystery, and the Soma cube. He advocated the use of the superellipse curve in city planning, furniture making and other realms. He also invented a perpetual calendar called the Astro Calendar and marketed housewares based on the superellipse and superegg.


Piet Hein was married four times and had five sons from his last three marriages.[4]

1937: married Gunver Holck, divorced.

1942: married: Gerda Ruth (Nena) Conheim, divorced. Sons: Juan Alvaro Hein, born 9 January 1943; Andrés Humberto Hein, born 30 December 1943.

1947: married Anne Cathrina (Trine) Krøyer Pedersen, divorced. Son: Lars Hein, born 20 May 1950.

1955: married Gerd Ericsson, who died 3 November 1968. Son: Jotun Hein, born 19 July 1956; Hugo Piet Hein, born 16 November 1963.

Jotun Hein proved the Soma cube's "Basalt Rock" construction impossible at age 12. This was published in the puzzle's instruction manual as "Jotun's Proof".[5] He was a Professor of Bioinformatics in the Department of Statistics of the University of Oxford and a professorial fellow of University College, Oxford. He was previously the director of the Bioinformatics Research Centre at Aarhus University, Denmark.


See also


  1. piethein.com "For a long time they appeared under the signature Kumbel Kumbell. Here is the reason why: Piet is the Dutch form of the name Peter or Petrus, which means rock, stone, and Hein is a way of spelling ‘hen’, the old Danish word for a whetstone. ‘Kumbel’, or ‘kumbl’ as it strictly speaking should be written, also means stone, though more a grave monument. In other words, Piet Hein, or Stone Stone can, in a way, be translated by Kumbel Kumbel. He originally wrote the second word with two Ls, also later the signature became just Kumbel – the name he is at least as well known by as his own."
  2. Inc, Time (14 October 1966). "LIFE". Time Inc. Retrieved 4 December 2016 via Google Books.
  3. Piet Hein biography Pamono Design
  4. Thorleif. "Thorleif's SOMA page". Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  5. Thorleif. "Thorleif's SOMA NEWS letter". Retrieved 4 December 2016.


External links

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