a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

Cardano and the Case of the Cubic (2005)
Jeff Adams

This parody of early 20th century "Hard Boiled Private Detective" novels is instead a short story about 16th century mathematician Gerolamo Cardano.

Its opening paragraphs clearly set the tone:

(quoted from Cardano and the Case of the Cubic)

It was a dark and stormy night in San Francisco, but fortunately, I worked in Milan where things were bright and beautiful. Bright and beautiful, that is until she walked into my office. Her face said that she had a paroblem, then her mouth said it too.

"I've got a problem."

All the while her legs were telling me that I should be the one to solve it, but the rest of her body was saying that she was trouble. Except for her left elbow, which was as quiet as the aluminum pot of cold lamb stew in my refrigerator. Yeah, that lamb stew wasn't saying anything to anybody and neither was her left elbow. That's what had me worried. Girls with quiet elbows can't be trusted. I deduce these things. I'm a mathematician. My name's Cardano.

The story is certainly cute, and when the fictional Cardano finally explains (at gunpoint) how he solved the cubic, he does so with a direct quote from the real proof written by Cardano. However, I find that the story unfortunately does very little to illuminate the mathematics. That is, I doubt that anyone reading it will gain any insight into mathematics or the lives of real mathematicians. Of course, that is not necessarily the goal of all mathematical fiction, and if this one seeks only to entertain then it has surely achieved its goal. (Plus, I suppose there is a good chance that anyone who reads it will, at least, be able to remember that Cardano is famous for his general solution of the cubic polynomial!)

Published in the April 2005 issue of Math Horizons.

More information about this work can be found at
(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Cardano and the Case of the Cubic
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Mangum, P.I. by Colin Adams
  2. Uncle Georg's Attic by Ben Schumacher
  3. The Case of the Murdered Mathematician by Julia Barnes / Kathy Ivey
  4. Mathematically Bent by Colin Adams
  5. Harvey Plotter and the Circle of Irrationality by Nathan Carter / Dan Kalman
  6. The Fractal Murders by Mark Cohen
  7. The Legend of Howard Thrush by Alex Kasman
  8. The Gangs of New Math by Robert W. Vallin
  9. The Jester and the Mathematician by Alan R. Gordon
  10. A Deadly Medley of Smedley by Feargus Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Ratings for Cardano and the Case of the Cubic:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
3/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreMystery, Humorous,
MotifReal Mathematicians,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Real Mathematics,
MediumShort Stories,

Home All New Browse Search About

Your Help Needed: Some site visitors remember reading works of mathematical fiction that neither they nor I can identify. It is time to crowdsource this problem and ask for your help! You would help a neighbor find a missing pet...can't you also help a fellow site visitor find some missing works of mathematical fiction? Please take a look and let us know if you have seen these missing stories anywhere!.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)