Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions

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Revision as of 07:49, 20 June 2014 by Jonathan (talk | contribs) (Inspiration)
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Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions was originally written for Round Four of the 2008 Whittaker Prize. The prompt used was the phrase going down an angle so sharp it makes Pythagoras puke. It was given a score of 78/100 by the judge, Rachel Green, putting it in fourth equal place out of 18. While generally approving, the judge commented that the future tense wobbled a bit.


After fixing the tenses, I submitted Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions to the forthcoming Crime and Punishment-themed event at Liars' League in London. It was accepted, and performed on September 9th, 2008, by Sabina Cameron.


The title of this story is a tribute to Martin Gardner's eponymous book, which I devoured when I was a kid (I know, I should have got out more). At some point, however, it also developed into an exercise in trying to write an entire story in the future tense. In the end I decided that it was probably a bit more than the read could bear, and I added a present tense coda to bring it to a neat conclusion. I did quite like the way that the use of the future tense added a sense of knowingness and inevitability to the way that the story played out.

I was particularly proud of the name of the cat, µ. This was actually a reference to a well-known mathematical riddle:

Q: Two cats sitting on a sloping roof - which one falls off first?

A: The one with the lowest µ.

This of course only works if you happen to know that µ is the symbol for the coefficient of friction.

Keen mathematicians will also spot a reference to Euler's Identity, as well as a somewhat mangled version of Fermat's notorious quote about his Last Theorem:

I have discovered a truly marvellous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.

Oh yes, Guantanamera. If you ever go to Cuba on holiday, you will hear this a lot. Our coach party contained a lugubrious Yorkshireman, a man of few words but every one of them pithy. One evening, we were relaxing after our dinner listening to the in-house trio with a Mojito or two, and out of the blue he suddenly exclaimed "Seventeen". When we asked what he meant by this, he explained that it was "the seventeenth time I've heard that bloody song today." We all nodded in sympathy.