Everyone who studies elementary number theory learns two different versions of Fermat’s Little Theorem:

Fermat’s Little Theorem, Version 1: If is prime and is an integer not divisible by , then .

Fermat’s Little Theorem, Version 2: If is prime and is any integer, then .

as well as the following extension of Version 1 of Fermat’s Little Theorem to arbitrary positive integers :

Euler’s Theorem: If is a positive integer and , then , where is Euler’s totient function.

My first goal in this post is to explain a generalization of Version 2 of Fermat’s Little Theorem to arbitrary . I’ll then explain an extension of this result to integer matrices, along with a slick proof of all of these results (and more) via “combinatorial zeta functions”.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of Martin Gardner. His books on mathematics had a huge influence on me as a teenager, and I’m a fan of his writing on magic as well, but it was only last year that I branched out into reading some of his essays on philosophy, economics, religion, literature, etc. In this vein, I highly recommend “The Night Is Large”, a book of collected essays which showcases the astonishingly broad range of topics about which Martin had something interesting to say. It’s out of print, but it’s easy to find an inexpensive used copy if you search online.

Thinking back on my favorite Martin Gardner columns, my all-time favorite has to be the April 1975 issue of Scientific American. In that issue, Martin wrote an article about the six most sensational discoveries of 1974. The whole article was an April Fools’ Day prank: among the discoveries he reported were a counterexample to the four-color problem and an artificial-intelligence computer chess program that determined, with a high degree of probability, that P-KR4 is always a winning move for white. The article also contained the following:

Usually my blog posts are rather tightly focused, but today I’d just like to post a few stream-of-consciousness thoughts.

(1) My blog was recently featured in the AMS Blog on Math Blogs. Perhaps by mentioning this here I can create some sort of infinite recursion which crashes the internet and forces a reboot of the year 2020.