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Mathematical Treasure: Lewis Carroll’s A Tangled Tale

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

The title page for Lewis Carroll’s A Tangled Tale, published in 1885, is shown above. Lewis Carroll was the pen name of mathematician Charles Dodgson (1832-1898). In the years 1882-1885, Carroll wrote a series of whimsical short stories for the British magazine The Monthly Packet. Each story centered about a mathematical puzzle or problem. This collection of stories was published as the book, A Tangled Tale, in 1885. Each story is listed as a “knot” waiting to be untied [solved] by the reader. Answers and solutions to “knots” are given at the end of the book.

The frontispiece of A Tangled Tale is shown above.

The first problem, or Knot 1, “Excelsior,” is presented above in its entirety to be read and solved.

On page 79 of A Tangled Tale, above, the author discussed some incorrect answers to "Knot 1."

The images above are supplied through the courtesy of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection of the Pennsylvania State University Library and the assistance of Dr. Sandra Stelts, Curator of the Collection.

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Lewis Carroll’s A Tangled Tale," Convergence (June 2015)