a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Albert's Bridge (1967)
Tom Stoppard
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

A radio play about a philosophy graduate student who gets a job painting the Clufton Bay Bridge. It takes him and three other workers exactly two years to paint the entire bridge, at which time they must begin again immediately since the paint has a lifetime of two years.

Some mathematical jargon is used to explain the beauty that Albert sees in the bridge, but the primary mathematical content is Albert's claim that he can paint the bridge himself using paint with a lifetime of 8 years. The seemingly infallible logic of this argument, reminiscent of many elementary algebra problems, falls apart when it is tried. In particular, after two years in which he has painted only one quarter of the bridge with the new improved paint, the paint on the remainder of the bridge is in serious disrepair. Perhaps the joke suggests that many supposedly "applied" math problems encountered in school are similarly naive?

(Thanks to Steve Abbott for suggesting that I add this play and sending me his Math Horizons review from September 1999 which mentions it.)

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Works Similar to Albert's Bridge
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Story of Yung Chang by Ernest Bramah (Ernest Bramah Smith)
  2. The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe
  3. Cantor's War by Christopher Anvil
  4. Erasmus with Freckles [aka Dear Brigitte] by John Haase
  5. Quanto scommettiamo ("How much do you want to bet?") by Italo Calvino
  6. The Sinister Researches of C.P. Ransom by Homer C. Nearing Jr.
  7. The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem
  8. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  9. Been a long, long time by R.A. Lafferty
  10. De Impossibilitate Vitae and Prognoscendi by Stanislaw Lem
Ratings for Albert's Bridge:
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Mathematical Content:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (1 votes)

MotifMath as Cold/Dry/Useless,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)