Thinking Machine
September 15, 2011 2:50 AM   Subscribe

Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph.D., LL.D., F.R.S., M.D., M.D.S.* is a fictional character in a series of detective short stories and two novels by Jacques Futrelle. Van Dusen was also known as "The Thinking Machine" for his application of logic to any and all situations. Most of Futrelle's stories are online. Futrelle himself went down with the Titanic.
posted by twoleftfeet (20 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
My weary eyes tricked my tired mind into thinking that Futrelle was a (contemporary) creation, not a creator, and I thought whoever wrote this faux NYT piece was really overdoing it.
Then I noticed the url and now I feel really strange.
posted by hat_eater at 3:14 AM on September 15, 2011

One of the things I like about Metafilter is that an interesting thing doesn't have to be interesting because it just happened. I mean, we have news services to tell us what just happened. There are many old things that happened, things we would have forgot, but not for the fact that we can look up the details or re-experience them now online.

I'm still reeling from the Titanic disaster, no matter what you kids are into now.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:26 AM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

I had a book of these stories as a kid, and they were FANTASTIC. If I ever have to escape from prison, I am going to be sure to request tooth powder and a cell near a river.
posted by web-goddess at 4:17 AM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

I had that same book! The one with the prison and the string down the pipe (which always reminds me of the Stainless Steel Rat). Also some kind of ghost mystery house.

From internal evidence I knew the stories were old, but I didn't know they were pre-Titanic. They are remarkably ahead of their time, given that.
posted by DU at 4:50 AM on September 15, 2011

"this crabbed little scientist with the enormous head of old..."
I'm sold. Thanks twoleftfeet!
posted by ouke at 5:03 AM on September 15, 2011

And thanks for letting us know of yet another interesting human being that once lived.
posted by hat_eater at 5:11 AM on September 15, 2011

Wow, thanks for bringing this back to me. We had to read "The Problem of Cell 13" in middle school, and then write our own escape story. I'll never forget; mine was set in space. Because I had just read 2001 and it was awesome.

Going to re-read it, then some of the others. Thanks again.
posted by Eideteker at 5:47 AM on September 15, 2011

So he didn't escape the Titanic disaster? Not so inventive after all.
posted by yerfatma at 5:49 AM on September 15, 2011

Having now read the linked NYT piece, it is clear I am a prick.
posted by yerfatma at 5:52 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

write our own escape story. I'll never forget; mine was set in space

Marooned Off Vesta
posted by DU at 5:53 AM on September 15, 2011

Hey yerfatma, it's a weird twist, the ultimately logical guy deciding to die to save his wife. I can't blame you for thinking otherwise.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:00 AM on September 15, 2011

i totally remember these, amazing! love it.
posted by facetious at 6:44 AM on September 15, 2011

I had the book, too. Scholastic Book Services, if I recall aright. Nobody heard them get away because they had an electric speedboat. Now how cool is that?
posted by warbaby at 7:21 AM on September 15, 2011

These are very cool stories.
posted by doctornemo at 7:46 AM on September 15, 2011

I like the picture on the stories link. The natural pose with him holding something in his hand (a bird?), and the sideways gaze, and the casual short-sleeved attire. So different from most century old portraits of formally dressed, forward facing subjects staring glumly into the camera. If you take away the monocle, you would think it was snapped just yesterday. His realness in the photo makes reading the NYT story that much sadder, like it happened to someone you'd just met.
posted by marsha56 at 8:19 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Loved these stories as a kid. My favorite was one where a company was leaking business secrets and no one could figure out the culprit. As it turned out (SPOILER ALERT) the secretary typing up the minutes of the meetings was also typing in morse code at the same time, and leaving her telephone receiver just off the hook so the morse code was transmitted to the evil dudes.
posted by kingoftonga86 at 10:25 AM on September 15, 2011

Very inexpensive version available for your Kindle; nicely formatted.
posted by wittgenstein at 11:36 AM on September 15, 2011

Not to be a total pedant, but I'm actually very curious, even if the character is fictional. Wouldn't the progression of degrees, in a multi-degree-post-name-initialing name, go in a different order in this case, starting with F.R.S, and proceeding downward in order of degree rank? I thought I read that somewhere once, and, not that I'm ever going to need to remember this again, is something I've always wondered about.

So like: F.R.S, M.D., M.D.S., LL.D., Ph.D.?
posted by jivadravya at 1:13 PM on September 15, 2011

At least two of the original collections were published by Dover Paperbacks back in the 80's: "The Thinking Machine stories" and "Great Cases of the Thinking Machine". All quite interesting: he specialized in 'locked room' puzzles, and there are several good ones, including "The problem of Cell 13".
posted by jrochest at 4:49 PM on September 15, 2011

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