a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Story of Yung Chang (1900)
Ernest Bramah (Ernest Bramah Smith)
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Before the invention of multiplication tables, a Chinese idol merchant must sell his wares individually, even if someone wishes to purchase a large amount, since he has no way to determine how much money someone would owe if they purchase many idols. So, the clever Yung Chang presents him with a multiplication table to win the hand of the merchant's beautiful daughter in marriage. Of course, it takes some work for Yung Chang to convince the merchant that this "discovery" will actually do what he claims, but as he explains, "the method is regulated by a system of squares, triangles, and cubes", and besides, it was discovered by him as he worshipped at the tomb of his ancestors!

Unfortunately, it turns out that the table is not quite accurate. Like a certain computer chip that I recall, Yung Chang's table seems correct since it works fine for the numbers that the merchant has to deal with in most situations at first. But, when his business improves as a result of the table, it sends his sales figures up into the range of the table where the "bug" lives, with disasterous consequences!

This story was published in the collection "The Wallet of Kai Lung". Several copies of this book should be available online, though I'm having trouble finding a STABLE address. Try or for a "plain vanilla text" file use the Gutenberg version.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to The Story of Yung Chang
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Agha and Math by Vladmir Karapetoff
  2. The Jester and the Mathematician by Alan R. Gordon
  3. Silas P. Cornu's Dry Calculator by Henry Hering
  4. Topsy-turvy (Sans Dessus Dessous) by Jules Verne
  5. The Tachypomp by Edward Page Mitchell
  6. The Measure of Eternity by Sean McMullen
  7. Numbers in the Dark (La notte dei numeri) by Italo Calvino
  8. Ghost Days by Ken Liu
  9. The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper
  10. Albert's Bridge by Tom Stoppard
Ratings for The Story of Yung Chang:
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:
3.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (2 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction, Humorous,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Mathematical Finance,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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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)