Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries

Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries

Author: Ian Stewart

Publisher: Basic Books


Publish Date: October 7, 2014

ISBN-10: 0465054978

Pages: 320

File Type: Epub

Language: English

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Book Preface

Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities appeared in 2008, just before Christmas. Readers seemed to like its random mixture of quirky mathematical tricks, games, weird biographies, snippets of strange information, solved and unsolved problems, odd factoids, and the occasional longer and more serious piece on topics such as fractals, topology, and Fermat’s Last Theorem. So in 2009 it was followed by Professor Stewart’s Hoard of Mathematical Treasures, which continued in the same vein with an intermittent pirate theme.

They say that three is a good number for a trilogy. The late Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame did eventually decide that four was better and five better still, but three sounds like a good place to start. So, after a gap of five years, here is Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries. This time, however, there’s a new twist. The short quirky items, such as Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, the Thrackle Conjecture, What Shape is an Orange Peel?, the RATS Sequence, and Euclid’s Doodle, are still there. So are more substantial articles about solved and unsolved problems: Pancake Numbers, the Goldbach Conjecture, the Erdős Discrepancy Problem, the Square Peg Conjecture, and the ABC Conjecture. So are the jokes, poems, and anecdotes. Not to mention unusual applications of mathematics to flying geese, clumps of mussels, spotty leopards, and bubbles in Guinness. But these miscellanea are now interspersed with a series of narrative episodes featuring a Victorian detective and his medical sidekick—

I know what you’re thinking. However, I developed the idea a year or so before Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s spectacularly successful modern take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s much-loved characters hit the small screen. (Trust me.) More to the point, it’s not that pair. Not even as portrayed in Sir Arthur’s original stories. Yes, my guys live in the original time period, but across the road at number 222B. From there, they cast envious eyes on the stream of rich clients entering the premises of the more famous duo. And from time to time a case comes up that their illustrious neighbours have shunned or failed to solve: such arcane mysteries as the Sign of One, the Dogs that Fight in the Park, the Catflap of Fear, and the Greek Integrator. Then Hemlock Soames and Dr John Watsup put their brains in gear, show their true colours and their strength of character, and triumph over adversity and lack of market presence.

These are mathematical mysteries, you appreciate. Their solutions demand an interest in mathematics and an ability to think clearly, attributes in which Soames and Watsup are by no means deficient. These passages are signalled by the symbol images. Along the way we learn of Watsup’s prior military career in Al-Jebraistan and Soames’s battles with his arch-enemy Professor Mogiarty, inevitably leading to the final fatal confrontation atop the Schtickelbach Falls. And then—

It is fortunate that Dr Watsup recorded so many of their joint investigations in his memoirs and unpublished notes. I am grateful to his descendants Underwood and Verity Watsup for permitting me unprecedented access to family documents, and for generously granting me permission to include extracts here.

Coventry, March 2014

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