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The Rubbish Researchers Puzzle (2018)
Michael W. Lucht

Thanks to Dr. Allan Goldberg for bringing to my attention this humorous short story about a math professor hiding in a New Zealand pub from an angry looking mob of blue-eyed Pacific Islanders.

It concerns the sort of logic puzzle that arises when people at a party each have a card attached to their forehead with a word on it. Each person tries to determine what is written on their own card based on given information along with what they know about the others. For example, if someone in the group learns that one of the cards has a four-letter word on it, and she can see that none of the others do, she can logically conclude that her own does. There are variations of this sort of logic puzzle in which, after waiting n days, it is possible for her to work out that she is one of n+1 people whose card has a certain property.

This contrived story combines two such puzzles. In one, all of the math professors in a department are able to determine whether their colleagues' work is quality research or "rubbish", but unable to judge their own. The other is about an island of "natives" who are unaware of their own eye color and believe their god dislikes blue eyes. In both cases, one is expected to leave (the department or the island, respectively) upon learning the bad news (that one's research is rubbish or that one's eyes are blue). The result is reminiscent of Martin Gardner's old short stories and entertaining, even if it is potentially offensive to both academicians and Pacific Islanders.

Published in Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (2018) Volume 8 Issue 2, pages 310-315.

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Works Similar to The Rubbish Researchers Puzzle
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Goldman's Theorem by R.J. Stern
  2. Art Thou Mathematics? by Charles Mobbs
  3. No-Sided Professor by Martin Gardner
  4. Incomplete Proofs by John Chu
  5. Folk Music Festivals and Mathematics Conferences by Erik Talvila
  6. Do the Math: A Novel of the Inevitable by Philip Persinger
  7. Problems for Self-Study by Charles Yu
  8. On the Quantum Theoretic Implications of Newton's Alchemy by Alex Kasman
  9. Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker
  10. Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories by Colin Adams
Ratings for The Rubbish Researchers Puzzle:
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:
3.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (2 votes)

TopicLogic/Set Theory,
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)