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Silas P. Cornu's Dry Calculator (1898)
Henry Hering

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A very hilarious short story about a man who wants to build a mechanical calculator to evaluate logarithms but has success building a machine that can do only addition and multiplication. On the other hand is the “Athens University”, a place of learning which has decided that “figgering” (Mathematics) was quite worthless compared to studying “Homer, Venus and J. Caesar”. Resultantly, people in and around the university forget the art of even simple addition. Cornu's machine naturally finds wide acceptance in the town. All's well till some unscrupulous merchant puts oil in the “dry” calculator and starts cheating; for the calculator starts overstating simple sums when the gears are oiled. Some mayhem ensues before the university comes to its senses and starts offering basic Math courses.

The dialogue is punchy and the descriptions quite funny; I couldn't stop smiling throughout the story…There are other Silas Cornu's stories available on Google books, though none other is mathfiction as far as I know.

Originally published in The Windsor magazine, Volume 7, 1898 and recently rediscovered on Google Books by Vijay Fafat.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Silas P. Cornu's Dry Calculator
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. Agha and Math by Vladmir Karapetoff
  3. The Legend of Howard Thrush by Alex Kasman
  4. The Feeling of Power by Isaac Asimov
  5. Arithmetic Town / Arithmetic by Todd McEwen
  6. Say Wen by Ellis Parker Butler
  7. Porter Piper by Anonymous
  8. Applied Mathematics by Percival Henry Truman
  9. Prost, der Faust-Tragödie (-n)ter Teil [Prost: the (-n)th Part of the Faust Tragedy] by Kurd Lasswitz
  10. Freemium by Louis Evans
Ratings for Silas P. Cornu's Dry Calculator:
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:
4/5 (1 votes)

TopicComputers/Cryptography, Algebra/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)