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17 April 2012

Literary Physics: The Cyrano question

Folks, I freely admit to being a bit of a literary heathen.  I firmly believe that the three greatest books I've ever read, and by which I've been influenced, are

1. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird
2. Terry Pratchett's Night Watch
3. John Townsend's A Modern Approach to Quantum Mechanics

I'm deeply serious.  What, you disagree?  Me, I think the fact that Lee manages to create a heroic lawyer character should by itself send Mockingbird to the top of the literary charts.

I've never read Cyrano de Bergerac, but I came across this wonderful question more than a decade ago.  I think -- though I'm not 100% sure -- I found it in the Tipler 3rd edition test bank.  I've asked it on AP physics C exams for ages.  

Cyrano de Bergerac, in the play by Edmond Rostand, claims to have invented six methods of reaching the moon.  Five of these are listed below.  Select the one that has a physically sound basis.

(A) “Adorn my form with crystal vials filled with morning dew, and so be drawn aloft as the sun rises.”
(B) “Sealing up the air in a cedar chest, rarefy it by means of mirrors placed in an icosahedron.”
(C)“Construct the form of a huge locust, driven upward by leaps and bounds by impulses due to pellets of saltpeter ejected from the rear.”
(D)“Smoke, having a natural tendency to rise, blow in a globe enough to raise me.”
(E)“Seated on an iron plate, I hurl a magnet in the air – the iron follows – I catch the magnet – throw again – and so proceed indefinitely.”

I might have enjoyed Englilsh Class  more had we had fascinating discussions based around such a question.  Got a good literary question?  Post it in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, you may find some of the online discussion of TKaM regarding race issues interesting.

    Your Cyrano question was mentioned on a blog I follow, and I think using literature questions in math and science is a great idea. I was reading Holes to my son a few years back and got excited about a math question implicitly raised by the storyline - if the hole you dig is measured by your shovel, does a slightly shorter shovel handle make a significant difference in the amount of dirt you have to dig?