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Ara Shahbazian

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Ara Shahbazian is a longtime owner of Sultan's Tavern at Logan, Utah. He was born in Iran of Armenian parents. Ara had left Iran to study in England for two years and later went to Logan to join his brother, who was studying engineering at USU.

"I wanted to be with my brother," he said, "so I was accepted at USU and came here."

In 1983, Ara earned a bachelor's in mathematics at Utah State University. He followed up four years later with a second degree in computer science.

Ara became quixotically interested in math when he failed it in 10th grade.

"Mathematics was the weakest part of my education in secondary school," he remembered. In his school at the time, if a student failed one course, he had to stay back a grade. Ara recalled that humiliating time.

"The whole year, I had to sit with kids a year younger than me," he said. But, he noticed cheerfully, "Quitters never win and winners never quit."

And recently Ara has just come up with a try at solving one of the most famous mathematical puzzlers of the last four centuries, Fermat's Last Theorem.

Ara said he became interested in Fermat after browsing through a book about math at Deseret Industries.

"I was willing to pay my 50 cents and took it home," he said.

Fermat's Last Theorem is a famous mathematical puzzle. Proposed by French mathematician Pierre de Fermat more than 350 years ago, it concerns number theory. Pythagorean numbers are sets of three numbers, a, b and c (such as 3, 4, and 5), for which the equation a 2 + b 2 = c 2 is true. In the margin of the chapter he was reading, Fermat penciled a note that he had discovered a proof for a variation of the equation, which was too long to fit in the margin. The variation was that for whole exponents over 2, no set of positive integers could fit the equation. For example, no positive integers, a, b, and c, exist that would make the following equation true: a3 + b3 = c3.

For almost 400 years, mathematicians tried to prove or find an exception to what Fermat proposed. Andrew Wiles, an English mathematician at Princeton University, finally proved Fermat's theorem in 1994. However, even those who attempted without success to solve the problem over the years helped to make important mathematical discoveries.

Ara believes he has proved the theorem in a much simpler way than did Wiles, using math that was available in Fermat's time. Four lines are at the heart of his proof, and the method of solution, he called 'bar-hopping'.

However much Ara wanted to confirm his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, he also wanted the world to believe that Fermat had been the first to prove it.

"The one thing I want out of this," he said, "is to give credit to Fermat -- he knew the answer. He wasn't a liar, he wasn't wrong in his solution, he was a noble man."

Ara's proof was sent to the USU Math Department, and he has talked to department head Russell Thompson.

"If it was right, it would be fascinating," said Dr. Thompson.

As another math professor, Larry Cannon, noted, "There is a long and honorable tradition of amateurs. An amateur is one who loves, in this case, mathematics. Fine mathematics has been done over the years by amateurs. Fermat's (theorem) is easy to understand, but devilishly hard to prove. Ara is in great company ... Whether or not he proves Fermat's (theorem), this kind of exploration and curiosity is great."

Ara had wild, youthful times living a full life, and has few regrets about it. He says that when he was growing up, he was far from a model child.

"I was the black sheep of the family. I smoked anything I could get a hand on, I drank, womanized, skipped my classes. When I was younger, I was not a good child. My grandpa told me once, 'You are not worthless. We can always use you as a bad example.'"

After graduating in 1983, he celebrated by bicycling from Logan to Peekskill, N.Y. Twenty-five hundred miles in 22 days, he recalled. And far from boring, either.

"I saw so many beautiful girls," he said.

To mark the achievement of his computer science degree, he took a little stroll -- from Logan to Yellowstone.

"It's life, you just value life, what you do," he says. "You had your fun -- what are you going to say -- I want to give that up? That was fun, it was my life. Everybody has skeletons hiding in the closet."

But some of us bring our skeletons out and dance with them.

"I tell everyone in here (Sultan's)," he says.

He learned tolerance early, growing up as a member of the Armenian Orthodox Christian minority in the predominantly Islamic culture of Iran.

"Moslems in Iran, in a way, they're the most liberal people," he said. "Moslems are very understanding people, tolerant of other religions."

Although followers of Islam do not drink alcohol, Ara recalled how Iranian law accommodated the customs of other religions.

"The Christians and the Jews -- because their religions allow them to drink, they're allowed to produce their own alcohol for their own consumption. So my dad and my mom, being Christians, were permitted by law to have alcohol, to drink alcohol and to produce alcohol. But you don't have the right to sell it to a Moslem or take it outside of the house, to cause a nuisance," he explained.

Ara's parents still live in Iran, although their children are international.

"One brother lives in Vienna, Austria. He's the brain of the family, a writer," said Ara. "My sister lives in Canada with her husband and kids in Toronto. She's a housewife." His other brother, the engineer, lives in Seattle, Wash.