Science: Cracking a Record Number

Mathematicians solve a three-century-old puzzle in 32 hours

Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque is a sprawling research establishment best known for its work on highly secret defense projects, including nuclear weaponry. Last week Sandia exploded a different sort of bombshell. Its mathematicians announced that they had factored a 69-digit number, the largest ever to be subjected to such numerical dissection. Their triumph is more than an intellectual exercise. It could have far-flung repercussions for national security. As anyone who has ever passed through intermediate algebra knows (or once knew), factoring means breaking a...

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