a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
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.
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman,
College of Charleston)