MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The One Best Bet [Flashlight] (1911)
Samuel Hopkins Adams
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Contributed by Vijay Fafat

“Average Jones” is a collection of eleven tales of detection, solved by a very smart, young man, Mr. Jones. His catchy alias came about because “his parents had foredoomed him to it when they furnished him with the initials A. V. R. E. as preface to his birthright of J for Jones.” (“Adrian Van Reypien Egerton Jones”). Due to a timely inheritance from a wealthy uncle. He soon gets bored with common pursuits of life like travel and socializing and wishes for “a meaningful hobby”. As he puts it, “I’ve no taste for dissipation, either moral or financial. I want action; something to do. I’m bored, in this infernal city.” So he sets up a business as an “Ad-Visor”, analyzing classified ads for clients to warn them of potential scams. Surprisingly to him, a number of ads his friends show him appear to be “fronts” or suspicious efforts at swindling. There starts his leisurely “detection business”.

One of the cases, “One Best Bet” (which was first published as the story, “Flashlight" in April 1911 issue of "Success Magazine"), involves an advertisement announcing in code the assassination of the governor. Following a few clues and bullet holes, Average Jones deploys trigonometry to deduce the location of the potential shooter and the plan is foiled. As Average Jones explains in his final flourish:

(quoted from The One Best Bet [Flashlight] )

“Meantime,” put in Average Jones, “let me direct your attention to a simple mathematical formula.” He drew from his pocket an envelope on which were drawn some angles, subjoined by a formula. Morrison waved it aside.

“Not interested in mathematics?” asked Average Jones solicitously. “Very well, I’ll elucidate informally. Given a bullet hole in a telegraph pole at a certain distance, a bullet scar on an iron girder at a certain lesser distance, and the length of a block from here to Harrison Avenue —which I paced off while you were skilfully ordering luncheon, Waldemar—and an easy triangulation brings us direct to this room and to two fugitive gentlemen with whom —I mention the hypothesis with all deference, Mr. Morrison —you are probably acquainted.”

[...]

Governor Arthur looked from the wrecked camera-gun to the mathematical formula which had fallen to the floor. [...] Governor Arthur nodded. “The debt is paid,” he said. “That knowledge must be your reward; that and the consciousness of having worked out a remarkable and original problem.”

“Original ?” said Average Jones, eying the diagram on the envelope’s back, with his quaint smile. “Why, Governor, you’re giving me too much credit. It was worked out by one of the greatest detectives of all time, some two thousand years ago. His name was Euclid.”

It is not obvious how the author thinks the information helps in the triangulation process. It would have been better if he had actually included a diagram of the mathematical problem and explained the trigonometric part more for clarity.... a lost opportunity, sadly.

First published under the title “Flashlight” in the April 1911 issue of Success Magazine”. Reprinted as “One Best Bet” in the book, “Average Jones” (1911). It is now available for free online thanks to Project Gutenberg.

More information about this work can be found at www.gutenberg.org.
(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 One Best Bet [Flashlight]
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Musgrave Ritual by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Mathematical Doom by Paul Ernst
  3. The Square Cube Law by Fletcher Pratt
  4. Percentage Player by Leslie Charteris
  5. Holy Disorders by Edmund Crispin
  6. The Bishop Murder Case by S.S. van Dine (pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright)
  7. The Problem of Cell 13 by Jacques Futrelle
  8. The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  9. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Leigh Sayers
  10. Murder by Mathematics by Hector Hawton
Ratings for The One Best Bet [Flashlight] :
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:
2/5 (1 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
4/5 (1 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreMystery,
Motif
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)