The Mysterious Temporal Freeze

Pyramids clip artAlexandria Jones stepped into the huge tent that protected her father’s excavation site from the desert winds. She laughed to herself. It was like walking into a circus.

She knelt down to whisper in the ear of her faithful dog Ramus. “In this ring, grad students carefully brush away another layer of sand. In the next ring, the artist sketches every piece as it is found.” She waved her arm. “And over there, our flashiest attraction — drum roll, please — the photographers shoot each shard of pottery from every possible angle. But where is the Master of Ceremonies?”

Alex and Rammy found Professor Jones near the back of the tent, talking to another student. While she waited for her dad, she looked through an assortment of numbered artifacts that were ready to be packed and sent to the museum.

Fibonacci Jones had discovered the tomb of a scribe, an ancient Egyptian secretary and bookkeeper. It didn’t look like much — merely a hole in the ground, way different from a pharaoh’s hoard — but Alex knew her father. To him, a roll of papyrus was a treasure more precious than jewels.

She picked up the scribe’s palette, a carved wooden block about the size of a box of watercolors. This palette had three bowl-shaped pits for ink. Two of these held dried-out remains of the scribe’s black ink, and in the last pit she could see a faint stain of red. Four thin reeds lay in a groove, ready for the scribe to dip in the ink and write.

(Styluses, she thought they were called. Or styli? Have to ask Dad.)

Alex looked up to see her father walking toward her. Strangely, he seemed to be moving in slow motion. He froze in mid-step and stood statue-still. When she opened her mouth to speak to him, no sound came out.

At her feet, Rammy whimpered, then fell silent. Alex tried to turn her head, but she couldn’t move.

What could be happening to them?

What Really Happened

Remember that the Alexandria Jones stories were originally written for my math newsletter. Since it was a one-person operation, when I got the flu all production ground to a halt. I recovered just before the next issue was due out, in time to send a one-page apology to my subscribers, promising them that they would still get their full number of issues. I wrote this vignette for the apology letter.

Now that I am putting the Alex stories on my blog, I don’t have a strict production schedule. But I am going on vacation soon, and I probably won’t have time to work on any more newsletter stories until mid-July, which gives me a good excuse to recycle the “temporal freeze” story. Besides, I thought you might enjoy a peek at the workings of an archaeological dig.

When I get back from the fishing trip: Egyptian math in hieroglyphs.

Can You Solve This Story Problem Challenge?

My newsletter also included puzzles and games unrelated to the Alexandria Jones stories. Here is a word problem from the May/June 1998 issue:

A certain famous cat snarfs down an 11″x13″ pan of lasagna in 3 seconds flat. Assuming the fat feline has a bottomless pit for a stomach and continues to eat at the same rate, how long will it take him to devour a pasta the size of the state of Illinois?

Square footYou may estimate the pan of lasagna to be one square foot. An 11″x13″ pan is actually one square inch shy of that, Lasagna pan but it won’t change the solution enough to matter — simply round your answer to two significant figures. As any science teacher will tell you, you should never copy down all the numbers your calculator spews out. (Look here for a short quiz on significant figures.)

If you get stumped, my recent post on conversion factors might be helpful. And in case you were wondering, InfoPlease Almanac gives the area of Illinois as 55,584 square miles.

Update

The answer is now posted:


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