a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
William Hazlett Upson wrote a series of pieces for the Saturday Evening Post about a salesman for The Earthworm Tractor Company, written as a dialog of letters and memos between Alexander Botts and his boss. The format of the stories was stated goal/ obstacle/appearance of eminent failure or worse/boss expresses disapproval and intention to cut losses/Botts has cleverly resolved the situation in his company's favor.
One of these pieces involved the same Möbius strip twist of a flat drive belt. The WW II era Botts stories were told in the context of the war. In this one Botts had to borrow a bulldozer to prepare a land strip. The NCO in charge of the bulldozer would not release it to Botts. Same NCO was preparing to apply red safety paint to the outside surface only of a large drive belt such as used to be used to connect stationary engines to machinery. Botts unpins and reassembles the belt with a half twist forming a Mobius strip, the NCO and his assistant paint the belt, find paint on the inside, clean it off, find that they've cleaned the paint off the outside - in the mean time Botts has appropriated the bulldozer and prepared the strip.
The various Botts stories are available in published collections; I read this one in 'The Best of Botts' long ago.
Originally published in the 22 December 1945 Saturday Evening Post, this story was republished in the mathematical fiction collection Fantasia Mathematica.
One of over 100 Botts stories, this one in particular plays the trick with the moebius strip. I have read a few other but none as mathematical. If sixth grade teachers would read Fadiman's anthologies aloud to math classes, many more would find the excitement in mathematics. I first heard these stories when my 10th grade geometry teacher, Mrs. Gordon, read them aloud when there was a bit of time at the end of the class period. My high school senior mentioned one of the stories "John Jones Dollar" that he wanted to tell his Civics teacher about. Mathematical Magpie and Fantasia Mathematica are my two favorite science fiction anthologies.
Mr U was a real gentleman and a lover of books and book readers. Far more sophisticated writing than seems to be appreciated. He could often be found in Dyke Blair's book-store in Midd. where he was one of the "locals". He and Ben Whistler (prof. Math, Midd) seemed to find humor in many of their conversations. Math content??
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May 2016: I am experimenting with a new feature which will print a picture of the cover and a link to the Amazon.com page for a work of mathematical fiction when it is available. I hope you find this useful and convenient. In any case, please write to let me know if it is because I would be happy to either get rid of it or improve it if that would be better for you. Thanks! -Alex
(Maintained by Alex Kasman,
College of Charleston)