Sunday, March 26, 2006

Doing the Math

I've been seeing a television promo this weekend in which some detective looks at the camera and blurts out, "You do the math!" That phrase has definitely run its course; however, Donavan Hall, in his short story "A Survey of the Works of Ernesto Veto," at StoryGlossia this month, does an admirable job of marrying a little math with literature.

Written in essay format, the story recounts the life of Ernesto Veto, a fictional writer whose compositions were guided by transcendental numbers. (These are numbers with an infinite and unrepeating number of digits to the right of the decimal place, such as pi.) Veto uses these number sequences to dictate the number of letters in each succeeding word in his fiction:
For example, the first few digits of the number π are 3.14159. The opening of the novel π is "Say, I need a thick ridgepole..." Three letters in the first word. One letter for the second word. Four letters for the third word, and so on.
The story ends with a reference to Veto's suicide, caused, possibly, by his numerical obsessions.

The story is amusing and well done as a sort of faux document, but I'm worried that I'm missing something. This tale can't be complete unless it contains its own mathematical riddle. Surely Hall has based the paragraph lengths on the golden ratio. Or perhaps if all the letters in the story are converted to numbers, a Fibonacci sequence will appear, perhaps if read backwards, or divided by Hall's social security number... or something. It's devious, whatever it is, but I intend to find it.