Before the invention of multiplication tables, a Chinese idol merchant must
sell his wares individually, even if someone wishes to purchase a large
amount, since he has no way to determine how much money someone would owe
if they purchase many idols. So, the clever Yung Chang presents him with a
multiplication table to win the hand of the merchant's beautiful daughter
in marriage. Of course, it takes some work for Yung Chang to convince the
merchant that this "discovery" will actually do what he claims, but as he
explains, "the method is regulated by a system of squares, triangles, and
cubes", and besides, it was discovered by him as he worshipped at the tomb
of his ancestors!
Unfortunately, it turns out that the table is not quite accurate.
Like a certain computer chip that I recall, Yung Chang's table seems
correct since it works fine for the numbers that the merchant has to deal
with in most situations at first. But, when his business improves as a
result of the table, it sends his sales figures up into the range of the
table where the "bug" lives, with disasterous consequences!
This story was published in the collection "The Wallet of Kai Lung". Several copies of this book should be available online, though I'm having trouble finding a STABLE address. Try www.ulib.org or for a "plain vanilla text" file use the Gutenberg version.
