A Japanese mathematician swears he's solved one of the biggest problems in the world of math. The problem is, nobody, not even fellow mathematicians of the highest caliber, can understand Shinichi Mochizuki's proof of something called the ABC conjecture, reports New Scientist. It doesn't help that the proof itself is 500 pages long or that Mochizuki developed his own set of mathematical principles called the Inter-Universal Teichmuller Theory that must be mastered first. (Those who don't are "simply not qualified" to weigh in, says Mochizuki.) Mathematicians aren't saying that Mochizuki's resolution of the theory is wrong, but they're not saying it's right, either. As a result, it's been in a kind of math limbo since 2012, despite attempts by the Kyoto University professor as recently as last month to shed light on it.
As for the ABC conjecture, it's a longstanding math problem that also happens to be "deceptively complicated," explains ZME Science. "It roughly states that three numbers a, b, and c, which have no common factor and satisfy a + b = c cannot be too smooth. ... In number theory, a smooth number is an integer which factors completely into small prime numbers." Got that? The upshot, according to both sites, is that the theory raises fundamental questions about the "nature of numbers," and thus its proof would be a major milestone. "It's a bit disappointing that no one has come out and said it's right or wrong," says Oxford professor Minhyong Kim. (Elsewhere, a beating seems to have turned this man into a math whiz.)