Gustavus Math T-Shirts Rock!

Posted on March 13th, 2008 by

This is the strange story of how Gustavus math contest t-shirts have come to adorn a rock star.  In this post, all photos are thumbnails: click on them for the full-sized images.

Recently, one of Gustavus’s deans, Mariangela Maguire, told me she had received an email with a publicity photo for A Place to Bury Strangers, in which one of the band members is clearly wearing a “Gustavus Math Contest II” t-shirt with the three-crowns logo:A Place To Bury Strangers

My first question was how old the shirt was; I knew it wasn’t recent. This question was answered by another photo on the web. Oliver Ackermann, the band’s guitarist, has a business building custom effects pedals, Death By Audio. On that web site, he is shown displaying a circuit board while wearing the t-shirt in question. This time his arms don’t obscure the year, 1980:Death By Audio circuit board

The next question is how a 1980 Gustavus t-shirt came to be on this young rock star. The last name serves as a clue; around that time, a guy by the name of Ernie Ackermann was on the Gustavus MCS faculty for a couple years. (He moved on to Mary Washington College, now the University of Mary Washington.) I checked with Ernie, and he confirmed that he had been co-organizer of the contest and had passed the shirt on to his son Oliver. He also pointed out that Oliver also performs in the shirt from the 1979 contest:A Place To Bury Strangers w/ 1979 shirt

This group has received very favorable critical response to their album. (I downloaded it and enjoyed listening to it.) And they are going gangbusters touring; right now, they are at the massive South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, where they are playing no fewer than eight shows. Given that Oliver Ackermann seems to have a habit of performing in his Gustavus t-shirts, I like to think we may be getting some publicity in this world-class venue. [Update:We did! See photo 41 in this slideshow from SXSW.] Who would have thunk it! As an additional side-benefit of this story, Ernie and I had a coffee together today at a CS education conference we’re both attending. And Ernie sent me this adorable photo of Oliver wearing the 1979 shirt back at the time, when he was three: A younger Oliver Ackermann models the 1979 shirt.



  1. ernest ackermann says:

    The photo that was in the Austin paper is number 39 of the SXSW photos, according to the manager for APTBS.

  2. Regarding the SXSW photos: Interestingly, both photos 39 and 41 are of essentially the same scene, presumably taken just moments apart. (Yet photo 40 is of something else.) The fast way to get to either, by the way, is by using the “back” button, which steps back from 1 to 42, then 41, etc.

    While I’m commenting on my own posting, I’ll mention that another of the 1980 shirts is also still in use. Jonathan Hilding (son of Gustavus math prof emeritus Steve Hilding) was one of the high school students taking part in the contest. He (after graduating from high school and then Gustavus and himself becoming a high school math teacher) passed his shirt on to one of his teen-aged sons, who is apparently wearing it regularly. We should figure out who the vendor was for these t-shirts of iron and go back to ordering from them.

  3. […] and a half years ago, I posted on this blog about the seemingly indestructible t-shirts from the 1979 and 1980 Gustavus math contests that […]