Susan Ruff received a B.A. in mathematics from Swarthmore College, where she enjoyed tackling puzzles of discrete mathematics and combinatorics. Since then she has been tackling a different kind of puzzle—puzzles of language—in a wide variety of contexts. After enjoying a circuitous route through educational publishing and software engineering communication, she found herself in 2004 in MIT’s math department, teaching mathematical communication. Returning to a math department felt remarkably like coming home.
Solving puzzles of language is much like solving puzzles of combinatorics. There are various possible solutions (or ways of expressing solutions) but some are more elegant than others, and when you hit on an elegant solution, it sings. There are tools you can use to make explanations sing, but no sure-fire rules. You explore and play, approaching closer and closer to the truth, until "La!"
In addition to solving puzzles of language, Susan loves solving the puzzles posed by cliffs. How can you climb a 2 inch-wide smooth-sided crack? You can. Yes, if you want to and have at least a few reasonably typical appendages, YOU can. Susan encourages you to pursue whatever makes your heart sing.
As a lecturer for Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication, Susan teaches mathematical communication in undergraduate communication-intensive mathematics classes (CI-Ms). She keeps a small collection of puzzles and games in her office, E17-404. Students are welcome to come by anytime to play.