"The beautiful mind paper boxes"

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The most recent Trump indictment reproduces this exchange of text messages (p. 11) :

Trump Employee 2:

We can definitely make it work if we move his
papers into the lake room?

Trump Employee 1:

There is still a little room in the shower where his
other stuff is. Is it only his papers he cares about?
Theres some other stuff in there that are not papers.
Could that go to storage? Or does he want everything
in there on property

Trump Employee 2:

Yes – anything that's not the beautiful mind paper
boxes can definitely go to storage. Want to take a
look at the space and start moving tomorrow AM?

It took me longer than it should have to process the  phrase "the beautiful mind paper boxes".

Boxes full of beautiful mind-paper???

What's "mind paper", or rather why was it a familiar term to Donald Trump's employees? And what did they think was beautiful about this particular selection of "mind paper"?

A few hundred milliseconds later, I realized that Employee 2 was probably referencing the 1998 biography of John Nash, or more likely the 2001 film based on it.

But what about these boxes of presidential papers made Trump's employees associate them with a movie about a schizophrenic mathematician?

After reviewing the movie's plot, I reckon it must be the part where Nash is recruited by a (hallucinated) Defense Department official "with a classified assignment: to look for hidden patterns in magazines and newspapers to thwart a Soviet plot […] delivering his results to a secret mailbox". When his mental illness is diagnosed, his wife "takes out the unopened documents he delivered to the secret mailbox". I don't remember such a scene in the movie, so probably Employee 2 is referring to the later "office wall" scene:

So Donald Trump's employees saw his accumulation of classified documents as analogous to John Nash's psychotic symptoms, meaning that they think the former president is insane — or at least that they routinely joke about the idea?

The "beautiful mind" phrase has been widely quoted in the press,  and also on twitter, though I haven't yet seen this interpretation made explicit, beyond some hints like this one:

Returning to my initial garden-pathing on the phrase, let me nerd out a bit by noting that the number of binary trees on a string of n symbols is the (n-1)th Catalan number. So if we assume that the syntactic association of  initial "the" is unambiguous, we have the four words "beautiful mind paper boxes", and Catalan(3) = 5, corresponding to the structures

((ab)c)d     (a(bc))d     (ab)(cd)     a((bc)d)     a(b(cd))

And depending whether we're talking about boxes of ((beautiful mind) paper), or (paper boxes) [reminiscent of] (beautiful mind), we have something like


I'll vote for the first one, but given the wide variation that English allows for the interpretation of (N N) compounds, their potential meanings are extensively overlapping.





  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 8:04 am

    And here I thought that this was going to be an example of voice-to-text conversion software gone hilariously awry and you were going to reverse-engineer the most likely thing actually said that the software had turned into apparent gobbledygook.

  2. Q. Pheevr said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 8:33 am

    I'm not beautiful, so I don't mind paper boxes at all.

  3. Pamela said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 9:08 am

    I immediately assumed that "beautiful mind" was a reference to the movie, but this entry helps specify it. evidently "beautiful mind" is a reference to chaos–mental or material–and Trump's claims that it obscures some genius method. Trump would be the first to miss the fact that Nash's mind was intermittently chaos only, and the genius part was not particularly chaotic. "beautiful mind paper boxes" are evidently non-plastic boxes in some idiotic arrangement that Trump has either claimed relate to the workings of his "beautiful mind" (ignorantly inverting the meaning, as he does with the "Presidential Records Act"), or it is their own parody shorthand for his non-method method (or method non-method).

  4. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 10:01 am

    I hadn't made the connection with the movie; my first thought was that "mind paper" could be some kind of weird mistranslation of "intelligence report". (We know there's at least one person in Trump's inner circle whose L1 is not English.) And "beautiful" is one of Trump's favorite adjectives (along with "tremendous" and "huge"). So it's not inconceivable that staff adopted "beautiful mind paper" as an oblique reference to classified documents they knew he wasn't supposed to have.

  5. KeithB said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 10:06 am

    I just figured it was a bad autocorrect.

  6. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 2:18 pm

    I have to sheepishly admit I thought the boxes were branded boxes (think Mickey Mouse branded boxes for kids) that said "Beautiful Mind" on the side ;)

  7. Taylor, Philip said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 2:52 pm

    Any possible connection with the 2016 Korean television series of similar name (modulo boxes) ?

  8. Doreen said,

    June 11, 2023 @ 4:23 am

    I echo Jarek Weckwerth's sheepish admission regarding the boxes.
    Another linguistically interesting aspect of the indictment document that caught my eye is the text message reproduced in paragraph 58 c (page 23). The sender – a "Trump family member" – is not named, but from Walt Nauta's reply we can conclude that the sender is a woman. The message contains several interesting formulations, such as "put boxes to Potus room", "have a room for them" and "Plane will
    be full with luggage."
    Are there any LLog readers with sufficient training in authorship analysis to determine which female member of the Trump family could have written that message?

  9. Alsee said,

    June 11, 2023 @ 3:21 pm

    beautiful ((mind paper) boxes)

    Maybe it's some serious silence-of-the-lambs creepycrazy, and they're saying Trump did a very pretty job using human brain slices as wrapping paper on his Christmas gift boxes?

  10. Robert Coren said,

    June 11, 2023 @ 4:57 pm

    I had no trouble deducing that "beautiful mind" was the key phrase, modifying either the boxes or the paper therein (and in fact the idea that it might be otherwise didn't occur to me), and suspected that the movie or the book might have something to do with it, but I wasn't sure what.

  11. Darryl Otten said,

    June 11, 2023 @ 8:18 pm

    The beautiful mind reference is the SUBJECT of what is inside the boxes. It's a reference to a man who unwound a Mossad plot in Canada.

    Not joking.

  12. Taylor, Philip said,

    June 12, 2023 @ 6:11 am

    Any URL you can offer, Darryl, which would provide more information ?

  13. Sammy Finkelman said,

    June 12, 2023 @ 2:36 pm

    >> Are there any LLog readers with sufficient training in authorship analysis to determine which female member of the Trump family could have written that message?

    It's Melania obviously. Who else could it be??

    This was on Memorial Day, 2022. They were going to move for the summer from Mar-A-Lago to Bedminster, New Jersey, and Melania thought that Donald J. Trump intended to take all those boxes with him and she texted Waltine Nauta that there would not be enough room on the plane for all of them.

    Actually, Trump intended to sort through those papers and remove anything that he didn't want his lawyer to find, and then put the boxes back. Except he put only about half of them back in the storage room. The prosecutor doesn't know what happened to the other half of the papers – did he take them with him to New Jersey, after all? – , or what they were even.

    Beautiful Mind papers may refer to anything that Trump made any mark on.

  14. Sammy Finkelman said,

    June 12, 2023 @ 3:28 pm

    On April 5, 2021, the contents of the boxes j=he took from the White House had surely not been sorted out, but the contents of some were clearly different . There was his* papers and other material.- other stuff entirely. There was probably some sorting at the time of their accumulation.

    Beautiful mind probably refers to the value the employee thought Trump placed on his thoughts.

  15. AntC said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 11:35 pm

    Now that we've had time to go through the transcript evidence from DoJ's indictment, what strikes me is how seldom Trump completes a sentence or even a thought. How did his employees interpret anything as an instruction? How does DoJ demonstrate any intent to the level required as legal evidence?

    When Trump was on the stump, myl made several analyses of T's 'stream of consciousness' style. At least some of the time that was tempered by a teleprompter, it seems.

    Outside of formal settings, he seems just inchoate.

  16. Ben Zimmer said,

    June 15, 2023 @ 9:48 pm

    The New York Times illuminates the phrase ("At the Heart of the Documents Case: Trump’s Attachment to His Boxes," June 15, 2023):

    During President Donald J. Trump’s years in the White House, his aides began to refer to the boxes full of papers and odds and ends he carted around with him almost everywhere as the “beautiful mind” material.

    It was a reference to the title of a book and movie depicting the life of John F. Nash Jr., the mathematician with schizophrenia played in the film by Russell Crowe, who covered his office with newspaper clippings, believing they held a Russian code he needed to crack.

    The phrase had a specific connotation. The aides employed it to capture a type of organized chaos that Mr. Trump insisted on, the collection and transportation of a blizzard of newspapers and official documents that he kept close and that seemed to give him a sense of security.

    One former White House official, who was granted anonymity to describe the situation, said that while the materials were disorganized, Mr. Trump would notice if somebody had riffled through them or they were not arranged in a particular way. It was, the person said, how “his mind worked.”

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