The Mystery of The Tesla Hoax

18th January 2017

We recently stumbled upon a fascinating story which incorporates excellent mathematical intuition, frustrated passion, intrigue, deception and the tremendous power of social media.

Last year certain sections of the internet were all a flutter as “long lost” drawings purported to have been produced by the late and great genius Nikolas Tesla had supposedly surfaced in an antique shop in central Phoenix, Arizona.

They were “believed” to have been created during the last years of Tesla’s Free Energy lab, Wardenclyffe and the most notable find was the ‘Map to Multiplication’. This ‘Map’ which showed the sums of all the multiplication tables arranged around a circle as if it were a clock face, split up into 12 points with the results of each multiplication arranged around the face at the appropriate points forming visible patterns.

Understandably the ‘find’ went viral with loads of very excited maths and science fans madly sharing and liking the post. The ‘official’ article describing the ‘find’ stated as fact that the Map had been found and passed on to local high school maths teacher Joey Grether who began interpreting it and extolling its virtues.

Grether said the map not only explored Multiplication as an interwoven web, but claimed that it, “offers a comprehensive visual understanding of how all numbers are self-organized into 12 positions of compositability.”

Grether explained that “This device allows us to see numbers as patterns, the formation of prime numbers, twin primes, Highly composite numbers, multiplication and division, as well as few other systems, I imagine, that are yet to be discovered. The diagram itself is very intuitive, allowing students to see how numbers all work together based on a spiral with 12 positions. 12, or 12x (multiples of 12) is the most highly composite system, which is why we have 12 months in a year, 12 inches in a foot, 24 hours in a day, etc. 12 can be divided by 2, 3, 4, and 6. So can all multiples of 12. For every 12 numbers there is a chance of 4 numbers being prime. They happen to fall in positions (think clock positions) 5, 7, 11, and 1.”

The idea is that the relationships between the numbers are displayed visually, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of Multiplication, Divisibility, and Prime.

“This breakthrough is phenomenal. If we could get students all over the globe to use this technique, to play with it, and help figure out how to use it, we could overcome our cultural aversion to Mathematics. Instead of memorizing the multiplication table, we could learn the positions of numbers and have a better understanding of how they work.” Grether enthused.

Juan Zapata, One of Mr. Grether’s students had his say as well… “I used to say I’m bad at Math… cause that’s what everyone says, but now, I’m like, dude, this is too easy.”

Posted on satire site many people thought it was a real CBS news story. Consequently it spread quickly garnering 749,126 Views on Imgur Reddit’s image sharing site and generating animated discussion around the world about the way the numbers were arranged, and what it meant for understanding about multiplication and primes, especially in education. But of course, the whole Tesla angle was a complete hoax and it wasn’t long before people starting to call shenanigans!

In reality, high school teacher Joey Grether had developed his original version of the Multiplication Map a couple of years before, designing it as a learning tool for students that he felt could really help develop their number sense and understanding.

However he was struggling to get it ‘out there’ and thought by adding some excitement and intrigue to the concept by claiming it was from Tesla might help ensure more people saw it.

“I mean, I just found the signature online and did a bad copy of one of Teslas documents, found a neat looking parchment, dropped the color out of my original poster, wrote up 500 words, sent it to the guy responsible for the “Banksy Revealed” hoax as well as a number of other satire pieces… and then the magic of social media transpired.”

Even when many people figured out it was a hoax though, they kept discussing it, proving to Grether that his idea truly did have merit and value. Some people would have been disappointed of course, but if you were a huge fan of Tesla there is no way you would have been fooled by the hoax anyway.

As Grether himself explains “What was great is that people were considering it regardless of its authenticity. They were discussing number theory, prime, and patterns… Sure, some people were upset, but why? Cause they were duped? The article was kinda silly. You can find the original image if you browsed for my name. I gave the student the name Zapata as a nod to Emiliano Zapata, and his words are the most cliche math cop-out ever.”

Emiliano Zapata

We like the Multiplication Map and we loved the way the hoax took off – in a nice little extra touch Grether came up with the Map on the 12 of the 12th in 2012 – so he made the date of the ‘Tesla’ Drawing 12/12/1912 which correlated nicely with the dates Tesla could have been at the laboratory  Wardenclyffe in 1912 working on free energy.

The original hoax article ends by suggesting that 12/12 become a significant day or holiday and that we should all celebrate with a dozen donuts! We think, why not? Do have a play around with the Multiplication Map's- original and hoax and we hope you enjoy them.