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Donald Knuth's 2022 'Christmas Tree' Lecture Is About Trees

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Donald Knuth holding up a volume of 'The Art of Programming'

Knuth presented the 2022 Christmas lecture at Stanford on Dec. 7.

Credit: Stanford University

Every year around Christmas time, Donald Knuth gives a special lecture "pitched at non-specialists" for a small audience at Stanford University, and to a larger audience online. Because of the pandemic, it's been three years since Knuth has been able to honor this tradition.

So this year's audience greeted Knuth with an extra sense of anticipation.

Hunched over a notepad (which was projected onto a screen behind him), Knuth began the 26th annual Christmas lecture by pointing out that the evening's topic had been hiding in plain sight for two decades. For the first 20 years, they'd called them the "Christmas tree" lectures.

In this year's lecture, "Twintrees, Baxter Permutations, and Floorplans," Knuth noted that the three seemingly unrelated concepts "are in fact in one-to-one correspondence, via three beautiful algorithms." Knuth noted they're all topics touched on in the latest volume of "The Art of Computer Programming," before jokingly reminding the audience that his book makes an excellent Christmas present.

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