Look around on the internet. I'm not sure if the current version will but I do know that previous versions of Slackware will run on a 486 and 16. Heck version 7 will run on a laptop with only 4MB RAM.
Also I wouldn't count on even the lighter window managers like windowmaker and iceWM to work on that old of a system. You can try but just be for warned that you might have to work straight from the command line, but that shouldn't be a problem for a big programmer type like yourself.
WAIT WAIT I KNOW I KNOW!!!! Check out Damn Small Linux
On there website under the FAQ they have a link to a page from a guy that got it to run on a 486DX and 486DX2 both with 16MB RAM. If you want a gui check out this distro. It's a live CD which means it runs off the cd but there are installation instructions on the site.
Also if your Laptop has a sound card and Damn Small doesn't detect it check out the ALSA Project
. I used it on my latop and now it works fine.