a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Pexagon (2018)
D.J. Rozell

A short story about math and physics grad students who, while drinking together at a bar, stumble upon the ability to draw a superposition of different polygons:

(quoted from The Pexagon)

Eric looked both scared and excited. “I was going to make a bad physics joke. You know, something can exist in multiple states until it’s observed—like Schrödinger’s cat. So I just emptied my head and decided to draw a pentagon and a hexagon at the same time. The joke was supposed to be that it would have 5.5 sides until we looked at it. But I don’t understand, once a wave function collapses, it’s supposed to stay collapsed. Not pop back into superposition. Honestly, I thought the whole von Neumann–Wigner interpretation of quantum mechanics was just hand-waving.” As we talked, we kept looking at the figure on the napkin that randomly became a pentagon or hexagon whenever we all looked away or blinked.

I suppose the author's idea was to explore what would happen to math if it was subject to the same counter-intuitive rules as quantum mechanics. Of course, quantum physics is always described in mathematical terms (operators on Hilbert spaces for QM, connections on manifolds for QFT, etc.). Moreover, the field of Quantum Logic specifically seeks to extend those sorts of ideas to mathematics beyond mathematical physics. In that sense mathematics already does include those ideas.

By my reckoning, this is more about physics than about math. (The drawing on the napkin is a physical object which is in a super-position of states due to the laws of quantum physics. The story does not really investigate whether there is a new mathematical object corresponding to it.) So, in my opinion, this only barely counts as an example of "mathematical fiction", but I am adding it to the database on the recommendation of frequent site contributor Allan Goldberg.

It was "published" as a podcast on 600 Second Saga and is also available in textual form here.

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 The Pexagon
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. 2+2=5 by Rudy Rucker / Terry Bisson
  2. On the Quantum Theoretic Implications of Newton's Alchemy by Alex Kasman
  3. The Higher Mathematics by Martin C. Wodehouse
  4. The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine by Greg Egan
  5. Euler's Equation by Neil Hudson
  6. Normed Trek by Harun Šiljak
  7. Inside Out by Rudy Rucker
  8. The Mathenauts by Norman Kagan
  9. The Girl with the Celestial Limb by Pauline Melville
  10. The Adventures of Topology Man by Alex Kasman
Ratings for The Pexagon:
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:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Mathematical Physics,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The total number of works of mathematical fiction listed in this database recently reached a milestone. The 1,500th entry is The Man of Forty Crowns by Voltaire. Thanks to Vijay Fafat for writing the summary of that work (and so many others). I am also grateful to everyone who has contributed to this website. Heck, I'm grateful to everyone who visited the site. Thank you!

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)