a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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 Agha and Math (1946) Vladmir Karapetoff
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Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A very funny, very creative tale of how logarithms might have been invented in ancient times, without it having had to wait for Napier.

In ancient times, ‘Agha, the Master’ was a rich landed proprietor living in a far-East country. “He owned numerous slaves who raised crops for him, took care of his orchards, and looked after his livestock.”. At the time of the story, only two of his wives were surviving, with a few children, one of whom was a pretty daughter, Rhia. Agha was well-to-do but the business of commerce and managing of slaves gave him some grief.

One day, at the Khaleb market for cattle and produce, Agha noticed a young man who seemed to be earning money by using some contraption and helping vendors. When asked, the youth said:

 (quoted from Agha and Math ) "Oh," said the young man in a pleasant lisp, "I am Math, the Abacus, and I figure out the amounts of thalesfor my clients. May I therve you thir? My charges are very reasonable and the accuracy is guaranteed. [...] My name is Massy, or Mass for short, but on account of my lisping which you no doubt have noticed, I have to pronounce it Math, and that's how I got this nickname.

Sensing that Math might become a very useful servant, Agha obtained his services for 2 years to teach his servants more accurate methods of addition. For some reason, likely because the method introduced many more errors in the past when incorrectly used by his slaves, Agha hated “multiplication” and insisted that Math not use even the name but stick to addition.

For 2 years, Math used his abacus skill, his ability to reason mathematically, and his innate kindness to help the slaves. By the end of it, Math and Rhia had fallen in love with each other. Agha declared that if Math could find a way of doing his “multiplication” using simple addition so that even the slaves could multiply accurately, the couple could get married.

For weeks, Math toiled to figure out the conundrum, till one day, he saw a glimmer. He noted that multiplying powers of 10 was equivalent to adding the powers in the “exponent”. From there, he reasoned that each number, if it could be expressed as a power of 10, would make multiplication collapse to addition. Using trial-and-error while trying to ensure that the entire system hung together consistently, Math was able to express the first 100 numbers as powers of 10, his “Eureka!” moment. In excitement, he ran to Agha, proclaiming, “Lo! Agha, Rhia ith mine!”, which, corrupted over time, became “Logarithm” :-). Math and Rhia, of course, got married after some drama (which drama also explains why the part of the logarithm after the decimal is called “Mantissa”.

Very satisfying story, told with speed and verve.

This "punny" story was originally published in Scripta Mathematica Vol. XII, 1946 and then collected in the book "Odd Angles - Thirty-Three Mathematical Entertainments" by Charles F. Linn.

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Works Similar to Agha and Math
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. Applied Mathematics by Percival Henry Truman
3. Silas P. Cornu's Dry Calculator by Henry Hering
4. The Adventures of Topology Man by Alex Kasman
5. The Legend of Howard Thrush by Alex Kasman
6. Fermat's Legacy by Ian Randal Strock
7. Pythagoras's Darkest Hour by Colin Adams
8. In Good King Charles's Golden Days by George Bernard Shaw
9. The Jester and the Mathematician by Alan R. Gordon
10. Forgotten Milestones in Computing No. 7: The Quenderghast Bullian Algebraic Calculator by Alex Stewart
Ratings for Agha and Math :