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Mathematics in Literature
 

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Can you identify the author of the following passage? The book?


December 1, 2011

Everything has to begin somewhere and there is no answer to that.  Except, of course, why does it?  Why, since we acceptthe notion of infinity without end, should we not accept the logically identical notion of infinity without beginning? ... Considerthe series of proper fractions. Etcetera. (To secretary.)  Then Cantor, then no beginning, etcetera, then Zeno. Insert: But the fact is, the first term of the series is not an infinite fraction but zero. It exists. God, so to speak, is nought.

from Jumpers by Tom Stoppard.

June 1, 2011

 It is the vice of a vulgar mind to be thrilled by bigness, to think that a thousand square miles are a thousand times more wonderful than one square mile, and that a million square miles are almost the same as heaven. That is not imagination. No,  it kills it.

from Howards End,  by E.M. Forster

December 1  2010


The equation on the page of his scribbler began to spread out a widening tail, eyed and starred like a peacock's; and, when the eyes and stars of its indices had been eliminated, began slowly to fold itself together again.  The indices appearing and disappearing were eyes opening and closing; the eyes opening and closing were stars being born and being quenched...

The dull light fell more faintly upon the page whereon another equation began to unfold itself slowly and to spread abroad its widening tail.  It was his own soul going forth to experience, unfolding itself sin by sin, spreading abroad the balefire of its burning stars and folding back upon itself, folding slowly, quenching  its own  lights and fires.

From A Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man, James Joyce 


August 1 2010

The problem,  Jamie had long felt, was not that people weren't capable of telling the truth; it was that they weren't able to understand what they were hearing.  The truth was not a line from here to there, and not ever-widening circles like the rings on a sawn log, but rather trails of oscillating overlapping liquids that poured forth but then assumed a shape and life of their own, that circled back around in spirals and fluctuations to touch and color all truths that came out after that one.  So a thing was not one thing but many things.  A fact many facts.

from In the Fall,  by Jeffrey Lent.


December 2009

A man, he would say, is like the number one while a woman is like a zero. When they each live apart, his value is not great, and she has no value at all, but when they enter into a marriage, then a certain new number is created.  If she is a good wife, she stands behind the one and multiplies its strength tenfold.  If she is a bad wife, then she pushes her way in front of it and weakens the man by the same number of times, reducing him to a mere tenth part of a whole.

For the answer, click here  



August 2009

... it was not that that I hoped to find when I began to pry around in Grandmother's life.  I thought when I began, and still think, that there was another angle in all those years when she was growing old and older and very old, and Grandfather was matching her year for year, a separate line that did not intersect with hers.  They were vertical people, they lived by pride, and it is only by the ocular illusion of perspective that they can be said to have met.  But he had not been dead two months when she lay down and died too, and that may indicate that at the absolute vanishing point they did intersect.  They had intersected for years, for more than he especially would ever admit.

For the answer, click here 



April 2009

...for a long time you were kept in the shadows, and people did their best not to think about you.  And if they did, they tried to convince themselves you weren't really like us.  That you were less than human, so it didn't matter.  And that was how things stood until our little movement came along.  But do you see what we were up against?  We were virtually attempting to square the circle.  Here was the world, requiring students to donate.  While that remained the case, there would always be a barrier against seeing you as properly human.

For the answer, click here


December 2008


He knew, without turning to look, that Professor Tonks had entered the room.  It was always like this with Tonks, the quiet entry.  He seemed  to insinuate himself into the room.  You knew he'd arrived only when you saw the students sitting opposite straighten their shoulders or bend more anxiously over their drawings.  Tonks was a dark planet whose presence could be deduced only by a deviation in the orbit of other bodies.

For the answer, click here



September 2008

Verona lies in a more or less semi-circular loop of river and we had set out from the approximate centre from the point, I mean, equidistant from each point on the bank:  according to the laws of geometry, it seemed to me, we should be able, by walking along the bank and taking, when we chose to do so, a turning perpendicular to it, to return, without retracing our steps, to our point of departure.
 
 Knowing how infrequently in the real world things obey the laws of mathematics or any other logical system, I would not,  perhaps, but for the wine we had drunk at lunch, have ventured to put this theory to any empirical test; but Verona showed a proper respect for the laws of geometry.  Leaving the Cathedral, we walked some distance along the bank, ... then turning off at right angles to the river, we proceeded, so far as possible, in a straight line; and found ourselves, just as Euclid would have expected, back in the main square.
 
 I was astonished at my success.


For the answer, click here

June 2008

He could begin to see it.  When the troops came out of the woods the artillery would open up... The troops would be under fire with more than a mile to walk... A few hundred yards out, still in the open field, they would come with range of skirmish, aimed rifles.  Losses would steadily increase. When they reached the road they would be slowed by the fence there.... When they crossed the road, they would begin to take cannon fire and thousands of balls of shrapnel wiping huge holes in the lines.... If they reached the wall without breaking, there would not be many left.  It was a mathematical equation.  But maybe the artillery would break up the defense.  There was that hope.  But that was Hancock up there.  And Hancock would not run. So it is mathematical after all.  If they reach the road and get beyond it, they will suffer fifty percent casualties. 

For the answer, click here


March 2008

Hexton-on-Weir is a town of stone houses, most of them very old and slightly cramped, centred around a town square which is not a square, but a highly irregular form unknown to geometry. In the centre of this square is a church, a fine building which has fallen into disuse as a place of workship, and has been turned into a museum to a famous regiment whose barracks are a few miles out
of town.

For the answer, click here


December 2007

Sufferers are seldom sweet-tempered; and Laura formed no exception.  Pin, her most frequent companion, had to bear the brunt of her acrimony:  hence the two were soon at war again. For Pin was tactless, and took small heed of her sister's grumpy moods, save to cavil at them. \dots Laura retaliated by falling foul of little personal traits in Pin:  a nervous habit she had of clearing her throat  her very walk.  They quarrelled passionately, having branched as far apart as the end-points of what is ultimately to be a triangle, between which the connecting lines have not yet been drawn.

For the answer, click here


September 2007

``All love is mathematically just, as much as the two sides of an algebraic equation.'' 

For the answer, click here

June 2007


'What is it, Virginia love?'

``Mother,' said Virginia.

`Mother?  My mother?'
...

``No. Mine. She's come.... And I'm afraid 
  oh, Stephen, I do think she doesn't mean to go away very soon, because she has brought two trunks.''

... ``How very odd,'' said Stephen, who till now had  regarded his mother-in-law as a monument of tact; adding, after a pause, ``Two trunks, did you say?  You counted them, I suppose.  Two trunks.  That is certainly a large number....''

For the answer, click here


March 2007

...he seemed to approach the grave as an hyperbolic curve approaches a line, less directly as he got nearer, till it was doubtful if he would ever reach it at all.

For the answer, click here


December 2006

Anil's name  the one she'd bought from her brother at the age of thirteen  had another stage to go through before it settled. By the time Anil was sixteen, she was taut and furious within the family.  Her parents brought her to an astrologer in Wellawatta in an attempt to mollify these aspects of her nature.  The man wrote down her birth hour and date, subtracted and fractioned them, considered her neighbouring stars and,  not realizing the involved commerce behind it, said the problem resided in her name.  Her tempestuousness could be harnessed with a name change... He spoke with a voice that approached serenity and wisdom in the small cubicle, behind whose curtain other families waited in the hall hoping to overhear gossip and family history. What they heard were loud insistent refusals from the girl.  the astrologer-soothsayer had eventually compromised his solution down to a simple appendage the addition of an e, so she would be  Anile.  It would make her and her name more feminine, the would allow the fury to curve away.

For the answer, click here


October 2006

If only I could get down to Sidcup!  I've been waiting for the weather to break. He's got my papers, this man I left them
with, it's got it all down  there, I could prove everything.

For the answer, click here

August 2006

In thirteen years as a pilot, Renzo Leoni crawled out of five bloody wrecks.  Blinded by fog, deafened by thunder, he's flown over the Mediterranean and the Alps.  He's been lost and low on fuel above the Libyan desert and trackless Ethiopian wastes, and shot at by Abyssinian anti-aircraft guns.  But it was Emanuele Leoni who was buried with that Silver Medal; Renzo took it off the day it was awarded, and never spoke of it again.

The familiar sensation arises in his throat.  Renzo pushes himself upright and vectors through the maze of tables and chairs and chests, trying not to add bruises to his shins.  Centuries of settling have rendered the marble floor uneven, but the uncompromisingly modern bathroom is only ten years old.

For the answer, click here

June 2006

But he could no longer disbelieve in the reality of love, since God himself had loved his individual soul with divine love from all eternity. Gradually, as his soul was enriched with spiritual knowledge, he saw the whole world forming one vast symmetrical expression of God's power and love. Life became a divine gift for every moment and sensation of which, were it even the sight of a single leaf hanging on the twig of a tree, his soul should praise and thank the giver. The world for all its solid substance and complexity no longer existed for his soul save as a theorem of divine power and love and universality.

For the answer, click here

April 2006

"I've been meaning to ask him here,' said Rodney guiltily, but somehow I've never got round to it yet. I suppose we should go to tea with him, then. I'll telephone him. I suppose the clergy house has a telephone? In touch with the infinite, no doubt, but an ordinary worldly one too?'

`Goodness, yes? There's even one in the vestry. People are always ringing up to ask Father Thames to luncheon or Father Bode to high tea.'

'All right, then. I'll say we will be delighted.'

`I wonder if he's really without relatives?' I said. `He strikes one as the kind of person who would have a mother.'

    For the answer, click here

February 2006

... an old man stops in the road and asks if I live here. He tells me he knows the land well. He pauses and looks along the stone wall, then in a quiet voice tells me his brother was shot here. Age seventeen, suspected of being a Partisan.... Yesterday I found a patch of blue cornflowers around an olive tree where his brother must have fallen. Where did they come from? A seed dropped by a thrush? Will they spread next year over the crest of the terrace? Old places exist on sine waves of time and space that bend in some logarithmic motion I'm beginning to ride.

For the answer, click here

 

January 2006

There isn't a finite amount of love to go round, so there's a danger someone else might nick your
share. Some people can only love one person, some can love hundreds, but it doesn't mean it's the same amount of love in each case. I might fall in love again, mightn't I? So will you. But when I do, I won't love my kids any less, any more than you'll stop loving your brother and father.

For the answer, click here

 

December 2005

'I couldn't stand it if you left me. I'd do something terrible...'

The unhappy little voice trailed off into space.

Something terrible. Like reading Shopenhauer and seducing me with your pretty, wet little body. But I am not going to fall for it again. Next time not even Goethe will help you. The white hand of the moon caressed the alabaster loins. I came to my senses. I regained my cool wisdom, the rigorous wisdom of modern logic: x wants to sleep with y; z is in the way; ergo, x must get rid of z.

For the answer, click here

November 2005

He walked across the park, feeling in need of air and exercise. This made him think of a passage in Strong's diary about taking a woman friend out on the Serpentine and as he stood on the bridge the man seemed to materialise, tweeded and hatted, leaning back from the oars, the girl at the other end of the boat, hazier but only too conceivable. It sometimes seemed to Mark impossible that the historical past was extinguished, gone; surely it must simply be somewhere else, shunted into another plane of existence, still peopled and active and available if only one could reach it. Despite such evidence as yellowing letters, disintegrating books, and the decease of almost everyone to do with his researches, he found himself disbelieving in organic decay. Somewhere, Strong was
still prowling around in that light green knickerbocker suit, or sitting at his desk writing with the scratchy nib pen, or laughing on the Serpentine with a woman.

For the answer, click here

October 2005

Alexander began to fuss. Kate lifted him out of the high chair and held him. He liked to roll around in her lap like a bald, brightly clad Buddha. Sometimes, holding him, she felt as though she held all the words she was not writing, warm now, tended and alive, sprung at last from their as yet unformed shapes and configurations, their flat, two-dimesional boundaries. Loving him was a terrible seduction, Kate thought, flowering continually while she persisted in thinking he was hers in the way words were.

For the answer, click here

September 2005

Just as a geometer, stripping things of their sensible qualities, sees only the linear substratum beneath them, so the stories that people told escaped me, for what interested me was not what they were trying to say but the manner in which they said it and the way in which this manner revealed their character or their foibles...

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August 2005

Poor old Poppleton! Again and again I have heard him — what do you think? laboriously explaining jests to her.... Poppleton would say something that convulsed me with laughter — in spite of my efforts, for I always dreaded the result so much that I strove my hardest to do no more
than smile appreciation. My laugh compelled Mrs. Poppleton to stare at me — oh, her eyes! Thereupon, her husband began his dread performance. The patience, the heroic patience, of that dear, good fellow! I have known him explain, and re-explain, for a quarter of an hour, and invariably without success. It might be a mere pun; Mrs. Poppleton no more understood the nature of a pun than of the binomial theorem.

For the answer, click here

July 2005

Confronted by the proposition that someone was, in fact, not merely hoping for his death but deliberately trying to murder him, he was as profoundly shocked as if he had been presented with incontrovertible proofs that a squared no longer equalled b squared+c squared or that his wife had a lover.

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June 2005

"This is a terrible business, an appalling business. It's doctor's orders. Open the door."

"Forgive me, but I will not."

"This business is as broad as it's long,'' contributed the doctor. ``We had better all work together. You need us, Mrs. Wilcox, and we need you. ...

"I do not need you in the least," said Margaret....

"It all turns on affection now,'' said Margaret. ``Affection. Don't you see?" Resuming her usual methods, she wrote the word on the house with her fingers. "Surely you see. I like Helen very much, you not so much. Mr. Mansbridge doesn't know her. That's all. And affection, when reciprocated, gives rights. Put that down in your note-book, Mr. Mansbridge. It's a useful formula."

For the answer, click here

May 2005

Thinking in terms of one
Is easily done ...

But counting up to two
Is harder to do;
For one must be denied
Before it's tried.

For the answer, click here

 

April 2005

...you will not be a full-blown mid until the Captain promotes you. Still, you wear a mid's uniform, and you walk the quarterdeck: you are only the first term in a progression, to be sure, but you do belong there, and that is the great thing.

Progressions, arithmetic, geometric, or just plain physical, tend to be very long; and as far as the emotionally worn-out Horatio Hanson was concerned, this first term in his particular sequence would have seemed almost eternal...

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March 2005

... they that were perfectly sound ... made nothing of going into the same houses and chambers, nay, even into the same beds, with those that had the distemper upon them, and were not recovered. Some, indeed, paid for their audacious boldness with the price of their lives; an infinite number fell sick, and the physicians had more work than ever, only with this difference, that more of their patients recovered; that is to say, they generally recovered, but certainly there were more people infected and fell sick now, when there did not die above a thousand or twelve hundred in a week, than there was when there died five or six thousand a week, so entirely negligent were the people at that time ... and so ill were they able to take or accept of the advice of those who cautioned them for their good.

For the answer, click here

February 2005

Of course, to somebody on it, the moon is always full, so the local idea of a sane action may well differ from ours.

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January 2005

...they had a political salon in which every evening they and their friends discussed the situation not only of the armies but of the fleets. They thought certainly of these hecatombs of regiments annihilated and passengers swallowed by the waves; but there is a law of inverse proportion which multiplies to such an extent anything that concerns our own welfare and divides by such a formidable figure anything that does not concern it, that the death of unknown millions is felt by us as the most insignificant of sensations, hardly even as disagreeable as a draught.

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December 2004

Margaret felt mildly interested in the fortunes of the Wilcox family. She had acquired the habit on Helen's account, and it still clung to her. She asked for more information about Miss Dolly Fussell that was, and was given it in even, unemotional tons. Mrs. Wilcox's voice, though sweet and compelling, had little range of expression. It suggested that pictures, concerts, and people are all of small and equal value.

For the answer, click here

November 2004

It mattered to her that Europe be European. She'd visited the Continent five times on vacation and twice on business trips with Alfred, so about a dozen times altogether, and to friends planning tours of Spain or France she now liked to say, with a sigh, that she'd had her fill of the place. It drove her crazy, however, to hear her friend Bea Meisner affect the same indifference....

For the answer, click here

October 2004

It had not taken him long to discover that the women were by far the most interesting of the two sexes in the colony, although you would never imagine it the case if you met them with their menfolk present. For then they affected the most remarkable vapidity. But alone, or with their own sex, they revealed themselves as scientists when it came to the vectors of the human heart.

For the answer, click here

 

September 2004

What people always demand of a popular novelist is that he shall write the same book over and overagain, forgetting that a man who would write the same book twice could not even write it once. Any writer who is not utterly lifeless moves upon a kind of parabola, and the downward curve is implied in the upward one.

William Smith of Bemidji, Minnesota was the first to identify the above passage. Second was Cornell student Jay Searson, who found it by way of Google.

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August 2004

The returned traveller entered the house, where he found awaiting him poor old Mrs. Martin, to whose earthly course death stood rather as the asymptote than as the end.

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July 2004

Yes, all my own desires helped me to a certain extent to understand hers; it was by this time an immense anguish in which all desires were transformed into torments that were all the more cruel the more intense they had been; as though in this algebra of sensibility they reappeared with the same coefficient but with a minus instead of a plus sign.

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June 2004

He passed through the narrow vaginal passage, and entered the huge womb of the Reading Room. Across the floor, dispersed along the radiating desks, scholars curled, foetus-like, over their books, little buds of intellectual life thrown off by some gigantic act of generation performed upon that nest of knowledge, those inexhaustible ovaries of learning, the concentric inner rings of the catalogue shelves... When the scholars raised their eyes from their desks they saw nothing to distract
them, nothing out of harmony with their books, only the smooth, curved lining of the womb. Wherever the eye traveled, it met no arrest, no angle, no parallel lines receding into infinity, no pointed arch striving towards the unattainable: all was curved, round, self-sufficient, complete.

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May 2004

You can divide people in many ways. Said the astonished executioner: ``I just divide them into heads and bodies.''

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April 2004

"But — " the girl hesitated — "don't you approve of any one marrying?''

"Oh, I'm not so severe! But do you know that there are half a million more women than men in this happy country of ours?''

"Half a million!''

Her naive alarm again excited Rhoda to laughter.

`"Something like that, they say. So many odd women — no making a pair with them. The pessimists call them useless, lost, futile lives. I, naturally— being one of them myself — take another view. I look upon them as a great reserve."

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March 2004

He hesitated in this walk toward the girl, in case his dead-set vector made her feel something was wrong, and that he wouldn't find her again if she moved to avoid him. The thick-linked co-ordinates of his life met and meshed. He felt carefree, and pleased there was nothing wrong with his dress or appearance, knowing now why he'd taken such care. He was lively and still young, though settled in his ideas. Feeling a certain emptiness in the middle of everything was only a sign that he hadn't yet lost his old sense of self-preservation.

For the answer, click here.


to continue, scroll down the page.



A man, he would say, is like the number one while a woman is like a zero. When they each live apart, his value is not great, and she has no value at all, but when they enter into a marriage, then a certain new number is created.  If she is a good wife, she stands behind the one and multiplies its strength tenfold.  If she is a bad wife, then she pushes her way in front of it and weakens the man by the same number of times, reducing him to a mere tenth part of a whole.

December 2009

A man, he would say, is like the number one while a woman is like a zero. When they each live apart, his value is not great, and she has no value at all, but when they enter into a marriage, then a certain new number is created.  If she is a good wife, she stands behind the one and multiplies its strength tenfold.  If she is a bad wife, then she pushes her way in front of it and weakens the man by the same number of times, reducing him to a mere tenth part of a whole.

For the answer, click here  



August 2009

... it was not that that I hoped to find when I began to pry around in Grandmother's life.  I thought when I began, and still think, that there was another angle in all those years when she was growing old and older and very old, and Grandfather was matching her year for year, a separate line that did not intersect with hers.  They were vertical people, they lived by pride, and it is only by the ocular illusion of perspective that they can be said to have met.  But he had not been dead two months when she lay down and died too, and that may indicate that at the absolute vanishing point they did intersect.  They had intersected for years, for more than he especially would ever admit.

For the answer, click here 



April 2009

...for a long time you were kept in the shadows, and people did their best not to think about you.  And if they did, they tried to convince themselves you weren't really like us.  That you were less than human, so it didn't matter.  And that was how things stood until our little movement came along.  But do you see what we were up against?  We were virtually attempting to square the circle.  Here was the world, requiring students to donate.  While that remained the case, there would always be a barrier against seeing you as properly human.

For the answer, click here


December 2008


He knew, without turning to look, that Professor Tonks had entered the room.  It was always like this with Tonks, the quiet entry.  He seemed  to insinuate himself into the room.  You knew he'd arrived only when you saw the students sitting opposite straighten their shoulders or bend more anxiously over their drawings.  Tonks was a dark planet whose presence could be deduced only by a deviation in the orbit of other bodies.

For the answer, click here



September 2008

Verona lies in a more or less semi-circular loop of river and we had set out from the approximate centre from the point, I mean, equidistant from each point on the bank:  according to the laws of geometry, it seemed to me, we should be able, by walking along the bank and taking, when we chose to do so, a turning perpendicular to it, to return, without retracing our steps, to our point of departure.
 
 Knowing how infrequently in the real world things obey the laws of mathematics or any other logical system, I would not,  perhaps, but for the wine we had drunk at lunch, have ventured to put this theory to any empirical test; but Verona showed a proper respect for the laws of geometry.  Leaving the Cathedral, we walked some distance along the bank, ... then turning off at right angles to the river, we proceeded, so far as possible, in a straight line; and found ourselves, just as Euclid would have expected, back in the main square.
 
 I was astonished at my success.


For the answer, click here

June 2008

He could begin to see it.  When the troops came out of the woods the artillery would open up... The troops would be under fire with more than a mile to walk... A few hundred yards out, still in the open field, they would come with range of skirmish, aimed rifles.  Losses would steadily increase. When they reached the road they would be slowed by the fence there.... When they crossed the road, they would begin to take cannon fire and thousands of balls of shrapnel wiping huge holes in the lines.... If they reached the wall without breaking, there would not be many left.  It was a mathematical equation.  But maybe the artillery would break up the defense.  There was that hope.  But that was Hancock up there.  And Hancock would not run. So it is mathematical after all.  If they reach the road and get beyond it, they will suffer fifty percent casualties. 

For the answer, click here


March 2008

Hexton-on-Weir is a town of stone houses, most of them very old and slightly cramped, centred around a town square which is not a square, but a highly irregular form unknown to geometry. In the centre of this square is a church, a fine building which has fallen into disuse as a place of workship, and has been turned into a museum to a famous regiment whose barracks are a few miles out
of town.

For the answer, click here


December 2007

Sufferers are seldom sweet-tempered; and Laura formed no exception.  Pin, her most frequent companion, had to bear the brunt of her acrimony:  hence the two were soon at war again. For Pin was tactless, and took small heed of her sister's grumpy moods, save to cavil at them. \dots Laura retaliated by falling foul of little personal traits in Pin:  a nervous habit she had of clearing her throat  her very walk.  They quarrelled passionately, having branched as far apart as the end-points of what is ultimately to be a triangle, between which the connecting lines have not yet been drawn.

For the answer, click here


September 2007

``All love is mathematically just, as much as the two sides of an algebraic equation.'' 

For the answer, click here

June 2007


'What is it, Virginia love?'

``Mother,' said Virginia.

`Mother?  My mother?'
...

``No. Mine. She's come.... And I'm afraid 
  oh, Stephen, I do think she doesn't mean to go away very soon, because she has brought two trunks.''

... ``How very odd,'' said Stephen, who till now had  regarded his mother-in-law as a monument of tact; adding, after a pause, ``Two trunks, did you say?  You counted them, I suppose.  Two trunks.  That is certainly a large number....''

For the answer, click here


March 2007

...he seemed to approach the grave as an hyperbolic curve approaches a line, less directly as he got nearer, till it was doubtful if he would ever reach it at all.

For the answer, click here


December 2006

Anil's name  the one she'd bought from her brother at the age of thirteen  had another stage to go through before it settled. By the time Anil was sixteen, she was taut and furious within the family.  Her parents brought her to an astrologer in Wellawatta in an attempt to mollify these aspects of her nature.  The man wrote down her birth hour and date, subtracted and fractioned them, considered her neighbouring stars and,  not realizing the involved commerce behind it, said the problem resided in her name.  Her tempestuousness could be harnessed with a name change... He spoke with a voice that approached serenity and wisdom in the small cubicle, behind whose curtain other families waited in the hall hoping to overhear gossip and family history. What they heard were loud insistent refusals from the girl.  the astrologer-soothsayer had eventually compromised his solution down to a simple appendage the addition of an e, so she would be  Anile.  It would make her and her name more feminine, the would allow the fury to curve away.

For the answer, click here


October 2006

If only I could get down to Sidcup!  I've been waiting for the weather to break. He's got my papers, this man I left them
with, it's got it all down  there, I could prove everything.

For the answer, click here

August 2006

In thirteen years as a pilot, Renzo Leoni crawled out of five bloody wrecks.  Blinded by fog, deafened by thunder, he's flown over the Mediterranean and the Alps.  He's been lost and low on fuel above the Libyan desert and trackless Ethiopian wastes, and shot at by Abyssinian anti-aircraft guns.  But it was Emanuele Leoni who was buried with that Silver Medal; Renzo took it off the day it was awarded, and never spoke of it again.

The familiar sensation arises in his throat.  Renzo pushes himself upright and vectors through the maze of tables and chairs and chests, trying not to add bruises to his shins.  Centuries of settling have rendered the marble floor uneven, but the uncompromisingly modern bathroom is only ten years old.

For the answer, click here

June 2006

But he could no longer disbelieve in the reality of love, since God himself had loved his individual soul with divine love from all eternity. Gradually, as his soul was enriched with spiritual knowledge, he saw the whole world forming one vast symmetrical expression of God's power and love. Life became a divine gift for every moment and sensation of which, were it even the sight of a single leaf hanging on the twig of a tree, his soul should praise and thank the giver. The world for all its solid substance and complexity no longer existed for his soul save as a theorem of divine power and love and universality.

For the answer, click here

April 2006

"I've been meaning to ask him here,' said Rodney guiltily, but somehow I've never got round to it yet. I suppose we should go to tea with him, then. I'll telephone him. I suppose the clergy house has a telephone? In touch with the infinite, no doubt, but an ordinary worldly one too?'

`Goodness, yes? There's even one in the vestry. People are always ringing up to ask Father Thames to luncheon or Father Bode to high tea.'

'All right, then. I'll say we will be delighted.'

`I wonder if he's really without relatives?' I said. `He strikes one as the kind of person who would have a mother.'

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February 2006

... an old man stops in the road and asks if I live here. He tells me he knows the land well. He pauses and looks along the stone wall, then in a quiet voice tells me his brother was shot here. Age seventeen, suspected of being a Partisan.... Yesterday I found a patch of blue cornflowers around an olive tree where his brother must have fallen. Where did they come from? A seed dropped by a thrush? Will they spread next year over the crest of the terrace? Old places exist on sine waves of time and space that bend in some logarithmic motion I'm beginning to ride.

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January 2006

There isn't a finite amount of love to go round, so there's a danger someone else might nick your
share. Some people can only love one person, some can love hundreds, but it doesn't mean it's the same amount of love in each case. I might fall in love again, mightn't I? So will you. But when I do, I won't love my kids any less, any more than you'll stop loving your brother and father.

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December 2005

'I couldn't stand it if you left me. I'd do something terrible...'

The unhappy little voice trailed off into space.

Something terrible. Like reading Shopenhauer and seducing me with your pretty, wet little body. But I am not going to fall for it again. Next time not even Goethe will help you. The white hand of the moon caressed the alabaster loins. I came to my senses. I regained my cool wisdom, the rigorous wisdom of modern logic: x wants to sleep with y; z is in the way; ergo, x must get rid of z.

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November 2005

He walked across the park, feeling in need of air and exercise. This made him think of a passage in Strong's diary about taking a woman friend out on the Serpentine and as he stood on the bridge the man seemed to materialise, tweeded and hatted, leaning back from the oars, the girl at the other end of the boat, hazier but only too conceivable. It sometimes seemed to Mark impossible that the historical past was extinguished, gone; surely it must simply be somewhere else, shunted into another plane of existence, still peopled and active and available if only one could reach it. Despite such evidence as yellowing letters, disintegrating books, and the decease of almost everyone to do with his researches, he found himself disbelieving in organic decay. Somewhere, Strong was
still prowling around in that light green knickerbocker suit, or sitting at his desk writing with the scratchy nib pen, or laughing on the Serpentine with a woman.

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October 2005

Alexander began to fuss. Kate lifted him out of the high chair and held him. He liked to roll around in her lap like a bald, brightly clad Buddha. Sometimes, holding him, she felt as though she held all the words she was not writing, warm now, tended and alive, sprung at last from their as yet unformed shapes and configurations, their flat, two-dimesional boundaries. Loving him was a terrible seduction, Kate thought, flowering continually while she persisted in thinking he was hers in the way words were.

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September 2005

Just as a geometer, stripping things of their sensible qualities, sees only the linear substratum beneath them, so the stories that people told escaped me, for what interested me was not what they were trying to say but the manner in which they said it and the way in which this manner revealed their character or their foibles...

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August 2005

Poor old Poppleton! Again and again I have heard him — what do you think? laboriously explaining jests to her.... Poppleton would say something that convulsed me with laughter — in spite of my efforts, for I always dreaded the result so much that I strove my hardest to do no more
than smile appreciation. My laugh compelled Mrs. Poppleton to stare at me — oh, her eyes! Thereupon, her husband began his dread performance. The patience, the heroic patience, of that dear, good fellow! I have known him explain, and re-explain, for a quarter of an hour, and invariably without success. It might be a mere pun; Mrs. Poppleton no more understood the nature of a pun than of the binomial theorem.

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July 2005

Confronted by the proposition that someone was, in fact, not merely hoping for his death but deliberately trying to murder him, he was as profoundly shocked as if he had been presented with incontrovertible proofs that a squared no longer equalled b squared+c squared or that his wife had a lover.

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June 2005

"This is a terrible business, an appalling business. It's doctor's orders. Open the door."

"Forgive me, but I will not."

"This business is as broad as it's long,'' contributed the doctor. ``We had better all work together. You need us, Mrs. Wilcox, and we need you. ...

"I do not need you in the least," said Margaret....

"It all turns on affection now,'' said Margaret. ``Affection. Don't you see?" Resuming her usual methods, she wrote the word on the house with her fingers. "Surely you see. I like Helen very much, you not so much. Mr. Mansbridge doesn't know her. That's all. And affection, when reciprocated, gives rights. Put that down in your note-book, Mr. Mansbridge. It's a useful formula."

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May 2005

Thinking in terms of one
Is easily done ...

But counting up to two
Is harder to do;
For one must be denied
Before it's tried.

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April 2005

...you will not be a full-blown mid until the Captain promotes you. Still, you wear a mid's uniform, and you walk the quarterdeck: you are only the first term in a progression, to be sure, but you do belong there, and that is the great thing.

Progressions, arithmetic, geometric, or just plain physical, tend to be very long; and as far as the emotionally worn-out Horatio Hanson was concerned, this first term in his particular sequence would have seemed almost eternal...

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March 2005

... they that were perfectly sound ... made nothing of going into the same houses and chambers, nay, even into the same beds, with those that had the distemper upon them, and were not recovered. Some, indeed, paid for their audacious boldness with the price of their lives; an infinite number fell sick, and the physicians had more work than ever, only with this difference, that more of their patients recovered; that is to say, they generally recovered, but certainly there were more people infected and fell sick now, when there did not die above a thousand or twelve hundred in a week, than there was when there died five or six thousand a week, so entirely negligent were the people at that time ... and so ill were they able to take or accept of the advice of those who cautioned them for their good.

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February 2005

Of course, to somebody on it, the moon is always full, so the local idea of a sane action may well differ from ours.

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January 2005

...they had a political salon in which every evening they and their friends discussed the situation not only of the armies but of the fleets. They thought certainly of these hecatombs of regiments annihilated and passengers swallowed by the waves; but there is a law of inverse proportion which multiplies to such an extent anything that concerns our own welfare and divides by such a formidable figure anything that does not concern it, that the death of unknown millions is felt by us as the most insignificant of sensations, hardly even as disagreeable as a draught.

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December 2004

Margaret felt mildly interested in the fortunes of the Wilcox family. She had acquired the habit on Helen's account, and it still clung to her. She asked for more information about Miss Dolly Fussell that was, and was given it in even, unemotional tons. Mrs. Wilcox's voice, though sweet and compelling, had little range of expression. It suggested that pictures, concerts, and people are all of small and equal value.

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November 2004

It mattered to her that Europe be European. She'd visited the Continent five times on vacation and twice on business trips with Alfred, so about a dozen times altogether, and to friends planning tours of Spain or France she now liked to say, with a sigh, that she'd had her fill of the place. It drove her crazy, however, to hear her friend Bea Meisner affect the same indifference....

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October 2004

It had not taken him long to discover that the women were by far the most interesting of the two sexes in the colony, although you would never imagine it the case if you met them with their menfolk present. For then they affected the most remarkable vapidity. But alone, or with their own sex, they revealed themselves as scientists when it came to the vectors of the human heart.

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September 2004

What people always demand of a popular novelist is that he shall write the same book over and overagain, forgetting that a man who would write the same book twice could not even write it once. Any writer who is not utterly lifeless moves upon a kind of parabola, and the downward curve is implied in the upward one.

William Smith of Bemidji, Minnesota was the first to identify the above passage. Second was Cornell student Jay Searson, who found it by way of Google.

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August 2004

The returned traveller entered the house, where he found awaiting him poor old Mrs. Martin, to whose earthly course death stood rather as the asymptote than as the end.

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July 2004

Yes, all my own desires helped me to a certain extent to understand hers; it was by this time an immense anguish in which all desires were transformed into torments that were all the more cruel the more intense they had been; as though in this algebra of sensibility they reappeared with the same coefficient but with a minus instead of a plus sign.

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June 2004

He passed through the narrow vaginal passage, and entered the huge womb of the Reading Room. Across the floor, dispersed along the radiating desks, scholars curled, foetus-like, over their books, little buds of intellectual life thrown off by some gigantic act of generation performed upon that nest of knowledge, those inexhaustible ovaries of learning, the concentric inner rings of the catalogue shelves... When the scholars raised their eyes from their desks they saw nothing to distract
them, nothing out of harmony with their books, only the smooth, curved lining of the womb. Wherever the eye traveled, it met no arrest, no angle, no parallel lines receding into infinity, no pointed arch striving towards the unattainable: all was curved, round, self-sufficient, complete.

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May 2004

You can divide people in many ways. Said the astonished executioner: ``I just divide them into heads and bodies.''

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April 2004

"But — " the girl hesitated — "don't you approve of any one marrying?''

"Oh, I'm not so severe! But do you know that there are half a million more women than men in this happy country of ours?''

"Half a million!''

Her naive alarm again excited Rhoda to laughter.

`"Something like that, they say. So many odd women — no making a pair with them. The pessimists call them useless, lost, futile lives. I, naturally— being one of them myself — take another view. I look upon them as a great reserve."

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March 2004

He hesitated in this walk toward the girl, in case his dead-set vector made her feel something was wrong, and that he wouldn't find her again if she moved to avoid him. The thick-linked co-ordinates of his life met and meshed. He felt carefree, and pleased there was nothing wrong with his dress or appearance, knowing now why he'd taken such care. He was lively and still young, though settled in his ideas. Feeling a certain emptiness in the middle of everything was only a sign that he hadn't yet lost his old sense of self-preservation.

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to continue, scroll down the page.

 


 

February 2004

Hermie looked at the paper in his hand. One page. In numbers one to twelve the sexual act had been written down by Oscy as if it were the Ten Commandments. ``Oscy "

``Shut up, Hermie. I'm memorizing."

``Oscy "

``Hermie, shut up!"Hermie kept shut up for as long as he could, studying the paper with the funny words that Oscy had to have misspelled. Then he broke radio silence. ``Oscy, this is crazy."

``What?" Oscy was glaring at him.

``Point Three."

``What's crazy about it?" His fingers were thumbing the table, just this side of becoming a fist.

``I never even heard of the word."

``It's Latin." Oscy was exasperated. ``The original guys were Latins." He resumed his studying....

"And what the hell is this, in Number Four!"

Oscy consulted his list to see what the trouble was.
``That's Latin, too!" He looked over at Hermie, kind of appealing to him not be so dense. "It's all in Latin, Hermie. Jesus."Hermie was beginning to feel just a mite ornery. ``Yeah? Well, I may just have to ask her where some of these things are!" ...

Seeing it in print like that, so arithmetically laid out, was a drain on Hermie's confidence. He was good in math, but Latin had never been his strong point. All he really knew of Latin was that Gaul was divided into three parts. And the only reason he knew that was because he was good in math.

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January 2004

One has to multiply thoughts to the point where there aren't enough policemen to control them.

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December 2003

At this point, Jacques paused in his narration and took another swig from his gourd. These pauses were more frequent as the distances grew shorter, or, as geometers say, they were in inverse proportion to the said distances. He judged the quantities so exactly that, while the gourd was full when he set out, it was empty to the last drop when he arrived. The men who run the roads could have used him as a first-rate odometer, and generally speaking each pause had its sufficient reason.

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November 2003

'Somebody has to be the first to arrive,' says Helen. 'You created the party, you see. Out of all the many possible parties there might have been! If somebody else hadarrived first, it would have taken a completely different course.... How's that for a quantum theory of parties?' She laughs, pleased with her conceit.

'It's more like chaos theory, actually,' says Douglass pedantically.

.... The front doorbell rings, and there is a sudden hubbub in the hall.

'There, some more independent variables have arrived,' says Helen.

For the answer, click here.

October 2003

`By this time the bears were sitting in a circle all around the tree. Yes,' said Bonaparte impressively, fixing his eyes on the German, `a regular, exact circle. The marks of their tails were left in the snow, and I measured it afterwards; a drawing-master couldn't have done it better. It was that saved me. If they'd rushed on me at once, poor old Bon would never have been here to tell the story. But they came on, sir, symetrically, one by one. All the rest sat on their tailsand waited. The first fellow came up, and I shot him; the second fellow — I shot him; the third — I shot him. At last the tenth came; he was the biggest of all — the leader, you may say.

```Wall,'' I said, ``give me your hand. My fingers are stiff with the cold; there is only one bullet left. I shall miss him. While he is eating me you get down and take your gun; and live, dear fellow, live to remember the man who gave his life for you!''

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September 2003

Thoughts of home grew stronger the nearer he approached it — far stronger, as though this feeling of his was subject to the law by which the force of attraction is in inverse proportion to the square of the distance.

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August 2003

GEORGE (reckless, comitted) I can put two and two together, you know. Putting two and two together is my subject. I do not leap to hasty conclusions. I do not deal in suspicion and wild surmise. I examine the data; I look for logical inferences. We have on the one hand, that is to say in bed, an attractive married woman ... we have on the other hand daily visits by a celebrated ladies' man who rings the doorbell, is admitted by Mrs. Thing who shows him into the bedroom, whence he emerges an hour later looking more than a little complacement. ...Now let us see. What can we make of it all? Wife in bed, daily visits by gentleman caller. Does anything suggest itself?

DOTTIE (calmly) Sounds to me he's the doctor.

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July 2003

In vain I put in ``When was it — in what year was it that you heard that Mr. Peter was the Great Lama?'' They only joined issue to dispute whether llamas were carnivorous animals or not; in which dispute they were not quite on fair grounds, as Mrs. Forrester (after they had grown warm and cool again) acknowledged that she always confused carnivorous and graminivorous together, just as she did

horizontal and perpendicular; but then she apologized for it very prettily, by saying that in her day the only use people made of four-syllabled words was to teach how they should be spelt.

The only fact I gained from the conversation was that certainly Peter had last been heard of in India, ``or that neighborhood'' ....

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June 2003

You encountered a misery near the end of the day and it took a while to gauge its full extent. Some miseries had sharp curvature and could be negotiated readily. Others had almost no curvature and you knew you'd be spending hours turning the corner.

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May 2003

"What is it then?" said Swithin. "Oh—one of your special puddings." At sight of it however he added reproachfully, "Now—granny!"

Instead of being round it was in shape an irregular boulder that had been exposed to the weather for centuries—a little scrap pared off here, and a little piece cut away there—the general aim being nevertheless to avoid destroying the symmetry of the pudding while taking as much as possible of its substance.

"The fact is," added Swithin, "the pudding is half gone!"

"I've only sliced off the merest paring once or twice, to taste if it was well done!" pleaded Granny Martin with wounded feelings....

"Well, I am not going to eat any of it, chopped round like that!" said Swithin decisively, as he rose from the table, pushed away his chair, and went upstairs....

When Swithin had been upstairs a minute or two, however, he altered his mind, and coming down again ate all the pudding, with the aspect of a person undertaking a deed of great magnanimity.

Peter Armstrong of MIT was the first to write with the correct answer.

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April 2003

One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible. Friendship needs a certain parallelism of life, a community of thought, a rivalry of aim.

Vince Grosso from Lockheed Martin was the first to write with the correct answer.

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March 2003

It had begun to dawn on him that this same sweet pretty little head was a "good head for figures." In fact, a much better one than his own and the knowledge was disquieting. He was thunderstruck to discover that she could swiftly add a long column of figures in her head when he needed a pencil and paper for more than three figures. And fractions presented no difficulties to her at all. He felt there was something unbecoming about a woman understanding fractions and business matters and he believed that, should a woman be so unfortunate as to have such unladylike comprehension, she should pretend not to. Now he disliked taking business with her as much as he had enjoyed it before they were married. Then he had thought it all beyond her mental grasp and it had been pleasant to explain things to her. 

Now he saw that she understood entirely too well and he felt the usual masculine indignation at the duplicity of women. Added to it was the usual masculine disillusionment in discovering that a woman has a brain.

Lek-Heng Lim of Stanford University was the first to write with the correct answer. The passage was suggested by JoAnne Growney.

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February 2003

 

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is there must we ever be.

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January 2003

. . . he speedily realized, as he dipped into the poems, that anything in the nature of a prolonged study of them was likely to spoil his little holiday. They were not light summer reading.

``Across the pale parabola of Joy. . .'

A gurgling snort from the other end of the compartment abruptly detached his mind from its struggle with this mystic line.

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December 2002

The gipsies were then to divide all the money that had been got that week, either by stealing linen or poultry, or by fortune-telling, or legerdemain, or indeed by any other sleights and secrets belonging to their mysterious government. And the sum that was got that week proved to be but twenty and some odd shillings. The odd money was agreed to be distributed amongst the poor of their own corporation; and for the remaining twenty shillings, that was to be divided unto four gentlemen gipsies, according to their several degrees in their commonwealth.

And the first or chiefest gipsy was, by consent, to have a third part of the 20s., which all men know is 6s. 8d.

The second was ato have a fourth part of the 20s., which all men know to be 5s.

The third was to have a fifth part of the 20s., which all men know to be 4s.

The fourth and last gipsy was to have a sixth part of the 20s., which all men know to be 3s. 4d.

As for example,

3 times 6s. 8d is ...........20s.

And so is 4 times 5s .............20s.

And so is 5 times 4s. ............20s.

And so is 6 times 3s. 4d .......20s.

And yet he that divided the money was so very a gipsy, that though he gave to every one these said sums, yet he kept 1s. of it for himself.

As for example,

 s.  d
6  8
5  0
4  0
3  4
 
 

 make but...   19  0

But now you shall know, that when the four gipsies saw that he had got 1s. by dividing the money, though not one of them knew any reason to demand more, yet, like lords and courtiers, every gipsy envied him that was the gainer, and wrangled with him, and every one said the remaining shilling belonged to him....

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November 2002

And it is perhaps one of the causes of our perpetual disappointments in love, this perpetual displacement whereby, in response to our expectation of the ideal person whom we love, each meeting provides us with a person in flesh and blood who yet contains so little trace of our dream. And then, when we demand something of this person, we receive from her a letter in which even of the person very little remains, as in the letters of a algebraical formula there no longer remains the precise value of the arithmetical figures, which themselves do not contain the qualities of the fruit or flowers that they enumerate.

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October 2002

There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting. Consider this utterly commonplace situation: a man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically, he slows down. Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time. ... that experience takes the form of two basic equations: the degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.

John Ewing, AMS, was the first to write with the correct answer.

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September 2002

... it should be considered that the most trifling variation in the facts of the two cases might give rise to the most important miscalculations, by diverting thoroughly the two courses of events; very much as, in arithmetic, an error which, in its own individuality, may be inappreciable, produces, at length, by dint of multiplication at all points of the process, a result enormously at variation with
truth....

Harald A. Helfgott from Princeton was the first to write with the correct answer.

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August 2002

In the street and in the newspapers, life appears so plain a business, that manly resolution and adherence to the multiplication-table through all weathers, will insure success. But ah! presently comes a day --- or is it only a half-hour, with its angel-whispering --- which discomfits the conclusions of nations and of years! ... Life is a series of surprises, and would not be worth taking or keeping, if it were not. go and ask the man in question to give him satisfaction.''

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July 2002

``Well, he found his wife six months gone with child: he had been away for two years....Now as you know very well, Bob Morley ...has never set up for chastity any more than I have... I tried to put this to Bob--- I tried to say he could not decently blame anyone for doing what he so notoriously did himself. Of course he came out with the parrot-cry `Oh it is different for women.'... I suggested that it was ... great nonsense --- the act was the same for both --- the only difference that a woman could bring a cuckoo into the nest and cheat the rightful chicks: but that could be dealt with by leaving that cuckoo out of your will.''

``Is that your considered view, brother?''

``Yes, it is....Fair is fair, you know.....

``I honor you for it.''

``I am glad of that: some would say it was sad stuff. Yet I do not think you will be so pleased when I tell you I said that if he wished I should go and ask the man in question to give him satisfaction.''

``But surely ... there is a contradiction here?''

``...if there is an apparent contradiction, I can account for it like this: I feel --- I deeply know -- I am right in the first case; and I am almost as certain of it in the second. Did your mathematical studies ever reach to the quadratic equation? ...The quadratic equation involves the second power of the unknown quantity, but nothing greater. The square.''

``Oh, indeed?''

``And my point is this: a quadratic equation has two solutions, and each is right, demonstrably and provably right. There is an apparent but no real contradiction between the answers.''

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June 2002

She had fallen asleep as soon as she lay down; her sheets, wrapped around her body like a shroud, had assumed, with their elegant folds, the rigidity of stone... Seeing that expressionless body lying there, I asked myself what logarithmic table it constituted, that all the actions in which it might have been involved, from the nudge of an elbow to the brushing of a skirt, should be capable of causing me, stretched out to the infinity of all the points that it had occupied in space and time ... so intense an anguish....

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