a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Root and the Ring (1954)
Wyman Guin

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

This is a very smartly written story full of humor, weaving fantasy with a reasonable amount of mathematics to make one smile.

A throughly married man with 2 kids and one who is not very good with numbers is presented with a wedding ring by his wife because now she can afford it. The antique ring is shaped in the form of a Moebius strip and a row of ancient Arabic-Latin-Gujarathi symbols inscribed down the centre line. The jeweler had told her that “the person under the influence of this ring has favored above all men in the arts of numbers.”

The Latin inscription indicates that the ring was “blessed by Sylvester II, formerly known as ’Gerbert’, the first man in Europe to use an abacus with ciphers.”. The Gujarathi symbols hark back to fact that ‘the zero makes its appearance in Gujarat inscription’. The Arabic script proclaims it to be ‘the magic ring of al-Khwarizmi, manipulator of emptiness.’ ”, emptiness implied by the word “sifr” for zero, from which rise the word “cipher”.

Evidently, the ring is a talisman, one which endows the wearer with good mathematical skills and a perspicacious approach to analytic thinking. The man finds that he has suddenly developed skills to manipulate numbers and simplify company accounts. Alas! He ends up losing the ring while doing some gardening in his backyard.

And what do you know! The ring, lost into the roots of an apple tree, endows the fruits with the same power a few months later. By Christmas, the entire family become sharp-shooters in mathematical ideas. There are a few very nice descriptions of the making of a Moebius strip, rotational and mirror symmetries in numerals, a magic act potentially involving either a Klein-bottle (its disappearance reminded me of Martin Gardner’s story, “The No-Sided Professor”) or a tesseract-like structure and a really hilarious mathematical obsession involving female anatomy which his son develops.

And a nice ending which leaves you asking, “How do you like them apples now?”

Published in September 1954 issue of Beyond Fantasy Fiction.

(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 The Root and the Ring
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Naturally by Fredric Brown
  2. The Devil and Simon Flagg by Arthur Porges
  3. The Devil a Mathematician Would Be by A.J. Lohwater
  4. I of Newton by Joe Haldeman
  5. Been a long, long time by R.A. Lafferty
  6. The Mathematician's Nightmare: The Vision of Professor Squarepunt by Bertrand Russell
  7. Probability Storm by Julian Reid
  8. Prost, der Faust-Tragödie (-n)ter Teil [Prost: the (-n)th Part of the Faust Tragedy] by Kurd Lasswitz
  9. Incomplete Proofs by John Chu
  10. Matrices by Steven Nightingale
Ratings for The Root and the Ring:
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:
4/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (2 votes)

GenreHumorous, Fantasy,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)