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Dalrymple’s Equation (1956)
Paul Fairman

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A tall tale about an alien “from Arva Majoris [...] a planet in a galaxy beyond the conception of [humanity’s] most brilliant minds.” . He’s taken on the name, “Tennyson Dalrymple” and uses his alien mathematics to help 2 police detectives solve the mystery of a death at a local bar. To quote the relevant sequences:

(quoted from Dalrymple’s Equation)

Dalrymple split a sneer between us. “It’s nothing but a mathematical problem. In the world I come from, students corresponding to your first-graders are started out on far harder equations.”

“So you can just take a pencil and figure it out, eh?”



“As every school child on my planet knows, each of these facts must be given a symbol and must become a part of our exploratory equation.”


There is no such thing as chance in a civilization or a culture which is properly based upon mathematics. In such a civilization lies and evasions are unheard of because all action and motivation past, present, or future, can be evaluated and revealed in complete exactitude.”


Dalrymple had the pencil racing over the paper, laying out a series of weird symbols the like of which I had never seen. They were neither numbers nor letters; nor the kind of geometric or algebra symbols used on earth either. Of that I was sure. The closest I can come is to compare them to Egyptian heiroglyphics and yet that’s far from the mark. But whatever they were, Dalrymple seemed to know exactly what he was doing.


“There - the exploratory equation is complete. Now we search it for flaws. [...] The flaws in this equation stand out by themselves. For instance, our zong is implicated -but must obviously be supplemented in order to balance the terz shading of the exploratory equation.”

Dalrymple later deploys his powerful mathematics to steal a sufficient amount of money to stay on earth comfortably as he explores the local culture.

This pulp trifle was published in Imagination June 1956 and is currently available for free online at

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Dalrymple’s Equation
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. All the Universe in a Mason Jar by Joe Haldeman
  2. The Day the Earth Stood Still by Robert Wise (director) / Harry Bates (story) / Edmund H. North
  3. The Unwilling Professor by Arthur Porges
  4. By a Fluke by Arthur Porges
  5. The Mathematicians by Arthur Feldman
  6. Getaway from Getawehi by Colin Kapp
  7. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
  8. The Men who Murdered Mohammed by Alfred Bester
  9. The Indefatigable Frog by Philip K. Dick
  10. The Square Cube Law by Fletcher Pratt
Ratings for Dalrymple’s Equation:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreMystery, Humorous, Science Fiction,
TopicFictional Mathematics,
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)