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Tales of the Fourth Dimension: "And He Built a Crooked House" by Robert. A. Heinlein

Updated on June 3, 2019
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years of success in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Unfolded and Folded Tesseracts: A tesseract in experimental mathematics is a building, or a portal to space-time. The structure when unfolded is made of eight cubes.
Unfolded and Folded Tesseracts: A tesseract in experimental mathematics is a building, or a portal to space-time. The structure when unfolded is made of eight cubes. | Source

Can You Visit Another Time and Place?

Do you enjoy the experimental opportunities of mathematics, physics, and science fiction? Time travel and tesseracts have made their way well into the genre, taking over movies like "Interstellar." If NASA researchers in Cleveland are successful, then we will one day travel through time, but back in the 1930s, there were other possibilities...

Time Travel Revisited for Space Ventures

By the end of calendar year 2013, China had landed its first lunar rover on the Moon. Google's LunarX Prize competitors had several rover entries ready ahead of schedule for launch, but none went up becuase of lack of funding.

The United States ended its lunar exploration after Apollo 17, although an entertaining and realistic film called "Apollo 18" raked up a conspiracy theory about an ongoing contest between America and the USSR/Russia for lunar domination.

An explosion on the moon in the early 2010s, termed a "clean up project", injected conspiracy theories with more material. It gave support to Apollo 7 astronauts' voice recordings about a large structure on the Moon. If such a building existed, the explosion demolished it.

China is on the Moon, perhaps to map out mining operations, such work suggested as viable by author and ex-NASA engineer Homer Hickam in the book Return to the Moon. Many American companies developed asteroid and Moon-mining technologies in the 2010s.

With the American Commercial Crew's Mission to Mars taking form faster aerospace ships are required and time travel (breaking the speed of light) is taken more seriously by NASA. It is, in fact, studied at the John Glenn Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Time Travel In Ohio

NASA installations in Cleveland, Ohio have been researching and experimenting in the following fields:

  1. Teleportation
  2. Breaking the speed of light ("time travel") .

The state was also fortunate to have former astronaut John Glenn, into his mid-90s, instructing college students from his own building on the main campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus.

With its own Space Corridor taking up the entire Southwest Quadrant of the state from Cincinnati to Columbus, Ohio is knee deep in the future of American space-time travel. Over 1,200 aerospace companies are successfully operating in the state.

Once, we had only science fiction stories about these topics, but those writings are finding reality.

A tesseract in a crooked house from the 1930s may be one solution to the time travel mystery.

A Three-Dimensional Tesseract as a four-dimensional analog of a cube; also called a four-dimensional hypercube.
A Three-Dimensional Tesseract as a four-dimensional analog of a cube; also called a four-dimensional hypercube.

And He Built a Crooked House

NASA built a lot of "crooked houses" that crashed and failed before it successfully sent mice, monkeys, and astronauts into outer space, around the Earth, and to the Moon. In the 2010s, SpaceX is experiencing the same adventures of successes and crashes.

"Walt Disney Presents" on Sunday night TV broadcast the history of the space program in the 1950s and 1960s. However, writers had been creating stories about all that for decades and science fiction conventions discussed aerospace aspirations as early as the 1930s. Everybody wanted to travel through time and space!

A particular story I enjoy is a tale of the fourth dimension. It takes its title from ideas in a Mother Goose rhyme:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,

He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;

He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,

And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

The crooked house in the sci-fi story is a folded tesseract that, when unfolded, leads to other dimensions in space-time. Step into the house and you never know where - or when - you are going to visit.


In the 1941 short story that first appeared in "Astounding Science Fiction", the address of a magic four-dimensional house is a real one near that of author Robert A. Heinlein's own house when he wrote the story. He chose a real address, but how many addresses does a real four-dimensional house need? That might depend upon how many points in space-time it can reach.

Address of the Crooked House

A
The "Crooked House" in Hollywood:
8775 Lookout Mountain Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046, USA

get directions

B
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Heinlein's House in 1935:
8777 Lookout Mountain Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046, USA

get directions

The Ambitious Architect Plays With Blocks

In the Heinlein story, an ambitious architect becomes drunk with a friend and begins to complain about the state of architecture in 1940s America -- It is too conservative. It is too confining. It is boring.

Frank Lloyd Wright felt exactly the same way about American architecture, so he created his own styles, like the prairie style. The drunken architect of the story went a few steps farther.

In the plot the sci-fi architect, Quintus Teal, decides to save real estate space with houses constructed into tesseracts. More specifically, these would be the unfolded tesseract style of eight cubes. He persuades his drinking partner to become more drunk and then persuades the man to sign a contract for a tesseract house, a real portal to adventure.

The Henry Ford Square House, Garden City MI

This square house may look like the house in Heinlein';s story, before it unfolded into the 8-cube structure.
This square house may look like the house in Heinlein';s story, before it unfolded into the 8-cube structure. | Source

Collapse of a Cube

After the house is constructed, an earthquake shakes it in the middle of the night. Teal, his friend, and the friend's wife go to the construction site to inspect the new house and find only a single cube (one room) instead of eight cubes together (eight rooms). They jump to the conclusion that someone stole the other eight rooms! How, they cannot say.

In reality, the earthquake collapsed the 8-cubed unfolded tesseract into its folded state.

The trio enter the single room and find a total of eight full-sized rooms there. They are confused. Moreover, they discover that every door and window leads to a different place on Earth. The people are befuddled.

Another earthquake causes three startled people to land in an isolated desert somewhere. They are lost.

Back at the site of the tesseract house, the lot is now empty. The tesseract has entered another area of space-time altogether. Passersby are suspicious.

IMPLICATIONS

If NASA or the Chinese successfully find the mechanism for surpassing the speed of light, will we be able to use that mechanism in a practical manner? Or will we become as lost as the trio in the story?

Once past the speed of light, would a person be able to return to the same mark in space-time from which he had departed? We do not know.

NASA and the Commercial Crew intend to pursue the fourth dimension until they have finally learned whether or not Warp Speed (faster-than-light) is possible to attain. Ohio may be the first to know!

Rotaing Transparent Tesseract

Science fiction often becomes science fact.
Science fiction often becomes science fact. | Source

Astounding Science Fiction; February 1941

Table of Contents

Short Stories and Novellas

  • Magic City (Nelson S. Bond)
  • Trouble on Tantalus (P. Schuyler Miller)
  • Sixth Column, part 2 of 3 by Anson MacDonald, pen name of Robert A. Heinlein
  • Completely Automatic (Theodore Sturgeon)
  • Castaway (Robert Moore Williams)
  • The Best-Laid Scheme (L. Sprague de Camp)
  • "...And He Built a Crooked House" by Robert A. Heinlein

Articles and Essays:

  • The Klystron by Stanley R. Short
  • Gypped! by Arthur McCann, pen name for Editor John W. Campbell, Jr.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      4 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      That's a memorable story to keep in my brain! Thanks for that.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 

      4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      My youngest, with her M.A. in Rhetoric, tells people she grew up in a bookstore. It was just the house, but it was filled with books. I feel they served their purpose. She has a love of books and now teaches at the Jr college level.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      4 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Oh, delightful to see such journals! I hope you and I both like the new-old Harper Lee book. As a child, I used to dream of living in the back of a large book shop.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 

      4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      As someone who spent many years searching for books (to sell and read) I often saw journals, etc left behind. What fun. I took the proceeds from a book sale and preordered 'Go Set a Watchmen' because as someone offering books for sell as Mockingbird Books, it was a must have volume.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      4 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Hi mckbirdbks! - Hope you are very well. The old and new "pulp" magazines are fun to read and feature some pretty good stories. A couple of vintage book stores have collections of them here and one of our libraries has subscriptions to several of the magazines still in publication.

      Heinlein's 2003-'04 subtitle "A Comedy of Customs" is what hooks me! Much fun and adventure, futuristically speaking.

      I wonder how many writers have left manuscripts in garages, attics, old walls, and between the cushions of couches? -- Like the prequel/sequel to "To Kill a Mockingbird" to be released mid-July 2015 -- I'm Number 68 on my library's waiting list for "Go Set a Watchman"!

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 

      4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      So, I am reading your hub about an Earl Stanley Gardner mystery when out of the corner of my eye I see Robert A. Heinlein's name and here I am. VEry interesting. I like that you had an Astounding Science Fiction on hand for a complete index.

      I was having lunch with a young engineer a couple of years back and wa surprised to hear Heinlein had published a new book in 2004. 'For US the Living' by Schribner's. The claim it is his first book but remained unpublished. It embodied so much of his ideas put forth throughout his career.

      Hey, it just took me two years to get here.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      5 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Hi Pearl!

      I received a science fiction anthology one Christmas and I always read more of the genre each December. I'll keep my ears open for progress in Ohio!

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 

      5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Fascinating stuff, just like the string theory and the bubble theory--there is so much we don't know about space and time. The idea that we can travel through time is fast becoming a real possibility. Loved this, Patty ;) Pearl

      Voted Up+++ and shared

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