This word, used at least twice in Wired’s “What Kind of Genius Are You?” is not one I have seen before. Or, at least, I don’t remember seeing it. What does it mean?

It appears to be a math term, which is understandable since the article is on an economics prof who does lots of statistical analysis.

On a graph, a curve which is approached but never reached.

Encarta says this:

as·ymp·tote (plural as·ymp·totes) noun

Definition:

line not touched by curve: a line that draws increasingly nearer to a curve without ever meeting it[Mid-17th century. Via modern Latin < Greek asumptōtos "not adapted to fall together" < sun- "together" + ptōtos "adapted to fall"] as·ymp·tot·ic adj as·ymp·tot·i·cal·ly adv

Asymptote. The math term for “reach for the stars.”

Used in the article in these contexts:

“Yet Galenson, whose parents were both economists, pushes on, ever approaching the asymptote.”

“Experimentalists never know when their work is finished. As one critic wrote of Cézanne, the realization of his goal ‘was an asymptote toward which he was forever approaching without ever quite reaching.'”

Re-reading this later I realized that, if a student had written this essay, I would count off 10 points for the lack of citation on the metaphor of asymptote. (The first quote comes second in the paper and is written by the author. The second quote comes earlier and is partially written by the author.)

If he did it again, he would fail the paper.