A Dallas Banker's Million-Dollar Quest to Solve a Math Problem

Andrew Beal isn't your typical banker. For starters, he's a lot richer. He's No. 43 on Forbes' list of the country's richest people, worth an estimated $8.5 billion. And he's always been less interested in conspicuous displays of wealth than in things like rockets, poker strategy and mathematical theory.

His quixotic go at a private satellite company free of government support, which we detailed in a 2001 cover story, went bust. His forays into high-stakes poker, chronicled in Michael Craig's 2005 book, The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King, were equally disastrous, costing him $16 million over a particularly woeful two-day stretch. He's now hoping his flirtation with advanced mathematics will yield better results.

See also - Meet the Dallasites Who Made Forbes' List of Wealthiest Americans - Love & Rockets: Andrew Beal Spent $200 Million Trying to Launch Rockets Without Uncle Sam's Help. His Dream Went Down in Flames

Beal's quest dates back to 1993, when he put forward a novel mathematical proposition:

If Ax + By = Cz, where A, B, C, x, y and z are positive integers and x, y and z are all greater than 2, then A, B and C must have a common prime factor.

It looks like something a seventh-grader might come across in algebra class, but it's far from it. The Beal Conjecture, as it's become known, is a corollary to Fermat's famed last theorem, which stumped the world's greatest mathematical minds for centuries until Andrew Wiles' 1995 proof. Beal's has only stood for two decades without a definitive proof or refutation.

That's what Beal's looking for. He put the math problem to the world, first offering $5,000 to anyone who could prove or disprove his conjecture, then increasing the amount to $100,000. Now, The Associated Press reports that the billionaire has upped the ante once again, this time to $1 million.

That's a pretty sweet pot. But before you waste your time scrawling the proof on a discarded cocktail napkin and mailing it to Beal, know that the solution must be published in a "respected" peer-reviewed journal and approved by an American Mathematical Society committee.

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