Alexandria Jones and the Magic Christmas Cards

The Jones family sat around the dining table performing a traditional holiday ritual: the Christmas card assembly line.

First, Dr. Fibonacci Jones (the world-famous mathematical archaeologist) signed for himself and his wife. He handed the card to Alex, who signed for herself and baby Renée. Then Alex’s younger brother Leon added his own flourish. Finally, Mrs. Jones wrote a personal note on the cards going to immediate family and close friends.

One-year-old Renée sat in her high chair, chewing the corners of an extra card.

Alex Poses a Problem

Alex dropped her pen and shook out her tired fingers.

“I’m stumped,” she said. “I’d like to send a special Christmas card to some of my friends from camp last summer. But I can’t think of anything that seems good enough.”

Leon leaned his chair back in thought.

Then he snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it! We’ll throw a handful of sand in each of their envelopes. You know, to make them remember all the fun you guys had digging up old stuff.”

Alex humphed. “How would you like to get sand in your Christmas present?” she asked. “Besides, it wasn’t stuff. It was artifacts.”

“You should not make such a display of your ignorance, young man,” Dr. Jones said. “Stuff, indeed!”

Mrs. Jones put her hand to her forehead and sighed dramatically. Then she turned to Alex. “Have you considered doing a jigsaw puzzle card? They sell them at the hobby store.”

“I’ve tried those before,” Alex said, “but the ones I had always warped. The puzzles didn’t go back together very well.”

Dad Gets an Idea

Dr. Jones got an out-of-focus, “I’m thinking” look in his eyes. He stood up, tapped his chin with his pen, and walked away. He almost ran into the wall, but he caught himself. Shaking his head, he disappeared into his study.

Mrs. Jones put down her pen and picked up Renée.

“Why don’t you two address those envelopes while we wait for your dad’s inspiration to reveal itself? I need to put a little one down to S-L-E-E-P.”

Alex laughed. “If you keep that up, Renée will learn to spell before she’s out of diapers!”

Leon thumbed the stack of envelopes and groaned. “C’mon, sis. Back to work!”

Before long, Mrs. Jones came back and chased the kids away from the table. “I’ll finish this,” she said.

Unfolding the Magic

Alex and Leon ran to the study. They found Dr. Jones at his desk, playing with a piece of paper.

“Ah, there you are,” he said. “Here, Alex. What do you think?”

“Well,” she said, “it looks like a regular piece of paper that’s been folded over on itself.”

Dr. Jones nodded. “Now you know a sheet of paper has two faces—that is, it has a front and a back.”

Leon reached for the paper and flipped it over. “Is that why you put red stripes on one side and blue stripes on the other?”

“Observe,” Dr. Jones said.

He took the piece of paper and folded it in half. Then he unfolded it and handed it to Alex.

“Hey, how’d you do that?” she asked. “Now there are blue polka-dots on this side.”

“Cool! It’s magic,” Leon said.

“It is called a tetra-tetraflexagon,” Dr. Jones said, “and it has one more hidden face. Can you find it?”

Alex folded the paper this way and that. Then she held it up in triumph.

“Look, red dots—I did it!”

She gave her dad a tremendous hug. “Thanks, Dad! I’ll make magic flexagons. They’ll be the best Christmas cards ever!”

To Be Continued…

Read all the posts from the December 2000/January 2001 issue of my Mathematical Adventures of Alexandria Jones newsletter.

CREDITS: “Christmas Window” photo by slgckgc via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Video by Shaireen Selamat of

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