a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Robbins v. New York (2008)
Colin Adams
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

The author of the Mathematical Intelligencer's "Mathematically Bent" column has a talent for making me laugh, and this piece which has the US Supreme Court justices debating higher math and modern physics is one of the funniest.

The inspiration for the piece is apparently a real court decision by the New York Court of Appeals in a case concerning the sentencing of a drug dealer. It seems that a harsher sentence is required if the crime was committed within 1000 feet of a school. However, the question arose of how this distance should be measured. In describing the decision in 2005, NY Times columnist Michael Cooper said: "Pythagoras won his day in court on Tuesday" as the decision was that the distance could be measured as the shortest distance in the plane (what I would call the Euclidean metric) as opposed to the distance that a person would actually walk to reach the school from the site of the deal. (See Cooper's piece here.)

In Colin Adams' "bent" version, the case reaches the US Supreme Court where lawyer Jane Hausdorff represents the state:

(quoted from Robbins v. New York)

Hausdorff: The nub of the question is how the legilators intended us to measure distance. Did they intend the Euclidean metric, which measures distance in a straight line from point A to point B, oftend desribed as "how the crow flies", or were they intending the taxicab metric, also known as the Manhattan metric, which measures the total distance traveled as you walk from point A to point B if you are required to stay on the streets that meet at right angles and are not allowed to take the diagonal?

Justice Thomas: Couldn't they have intended some other metric all together?

Hausdorff: I'm sorry, your honor. I'm not sure what you mean.

Justice Thomas: For all we know, they intended the Weil-Peterson metric.

Justice Ginsburg: Clarence, I believe the Weil-Peterson metric only applies to Teichmueller space.

Justice Thomas: Okay then, how about the Hermitian Yang-Mills-Higgs metric?

Justice Breyer: That applies to complete Kahler manifolds. Can we stick to metrics for measuring distance in the plane?

In addition to a more thorough discussion of the application of the Pythagorean theorem in the case that the deal was conducted in the subway, the debate eventually involves the anatomy of moles and crows, and even relativistic effects.

It was published in The Shape of Content, a collection of writings associated to the BIRS workshops on creative writing in mathematics and science.

More information about this work can be found at another page on this Website.
(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 Robbins v. New York
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Rithmatic by B.J. Novak
  2. The Law by Robert M. Coates
  3. Journey to the Center of Mathematics by Colin Adams
  4. Do Androids Dream of Symmetric Sheaves?: And Other Mathematically Bent Stories by Colin Adams
  5. Pythagoras's Darkest Hour by Colin Adams
  6. The Pexagon by D.J. Rozell
  7. Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories by Colin Adams
  8. Rumpled Stiltskin by Colin Adams
  9. The Integral: A Horror Story by Colin Adams
  10. A Killer Theorem by Colin Adams
Ratings for Robbins v. New York:
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 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Mathematical Physics,
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)