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Flower Arrangement (1959)
Rosel George Brown

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

I kept smiling throughout this story, which weaves in mathematics without really speaking about it overtly, and at the same time, capturing sardonic commentary about treatment of women in a male-centric world.

So Mrs Warner - Sally Jo Warner - who is not really very good at making flower arrangements, takes it upon herself one day to make a great “Arrangement” on behalf of her Ladies Club so that it can win a prize at the “Federated Gardens Show”. Usually, it is Mrs. Barbara who is the resident expert making award-winning flower-settings and Sally is determined to put on a good show.

She wants to select a good baseline, a backbone for the arrangement. She considers a “Hogarth Curve”, an S-shaped look to flowers which appear pleasant but wishes something more exotic. And her thought goes:

(quoted from Flower Arrangement)

“But the Hogarth Curve isn’t the only line in the world. Lines reminded me of math, and math reminded me of that Mathematics for Morons book Ronald brought home in one of his numerous un successful attempts to improve my thinking ability. There was something in that book wanted to remember. Some really interesting line. I grabbed the book and started down the index. B. Was sure it began with a B. No. Moebius Strip. That was it”

In the end, she does make the flower arrangement but it does not look quite like a Möbius strip, till her six-year old genius son, Tommy, creates “the roundest balloon ever” and sticks it between the arrangement. After that, the flower arrangement takes on a funny look, as if it is leaking in another dimension. The balloon is coated on the inside with a magnetic paint, a concoction made by Tommy himself. This paint somehow ends up creating a fifth force, turning the entire flower arrangement into a trans-dimensional object. And after that... well, the story goes through some funny moments, the balloon is burst and appears turned inside out without having suffered a break (implying a flip through a higher dimension). Scientists try to understand the phenomenon as it dissipates and Tommy turns his attention to “making the squarest thing in the whole world”... I could not but wonder if the author was making a reference to the Kaluza-Klein model in which a higher-dimensional version of General Relativity spits out Maxwell’s Equations, which, of course, govern the behavior of magnets...

The story has many subtle references to women being put down in ordinary course of life. At one point, as she is making the Möbius arrangement, Jo asks herself: “Why is my subconscious like a Moebius Strip? The best answer I could come up with was that it’s because it has a half twist in it.”

A very humorously written story.

This story was originally published in the December 1959 issue of Galaxy and has been reprinted a few times.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Flower Arrangement
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Higher Mathematics by Martin C. Wodehouse
  2. The Snowball Effect by Katherine Maclean
  3. The Heart on the Other Side by George Gamow
  4. No-Sided Professor by Martin Gardner
  5. Nobody Loves a Moebius Strip by Alice Laurance
  6. Scandal in the Fourth Dimension by Amelia Reynolds Long (as "A.R. Long")
  7. The Mathematicians by Arthur Feldman
  8. The Men who Murdered Mohammed by Alfred Bester
  9. The Unwilling Professor by Arthur Porges
  10. By a Fluke by Arthur Porges
Ratings for Flower Arrangement:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
MotifMobius Strip/Nonorientability,
MediumShort Stories,

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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)