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Literature / —And He Built a Crooked House—

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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.
There Was A Crooked Man

"—And He Built a Crooked House—" is a short story by Robert A. Heinlein, first published in 1941.

Quintus Teal is an architect always looking for the next big thing in design. While having a friendly conversation with his friend, Homer Bailey, Teal dreams about building a house that utilizes a fourth dimension. When he admits that this is currently impossible, he still thinks that the preliminary steps toward it could be a great new design type and he persuades Bailey to let him build a new house for him as an unfolded tesseract. When it is completed, he proudly takes Bailey and his wife to view the innovative new home. However, a small earthquake during the night has made the impossible a reality, and unfortunately, Teal and the Baileys become trapped in the middle of his architectural masterpiece.


This short story provides examples of:

  • Actually a Good Idea: Despite her determination to hate anything Teal has to show them, when Mrs. Bailey sees the gorgeous descending staircase she begins to like the house. By the time they enter the second floor she is describing things as “quaint” and suggesting how she would decorate the house.
  • Alien Geometries: A four-dimensional house.
  • Alien Landmass: Subverted when the protagonists finally escape the house only to find themselves in a strange desert landscape with bizarre tree-like vegetation. Turns out they're in Joshua Tree National Park.
  • Author Avatar: Heinlein makes a brief allusion to himself as the "Hermit of Hollywood" who lives across the street from Teal.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The house after it folds into a tesseract.
  • Bizarrchitecture - The tesseract house after it folds in on itself.
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  • Faint in Shock: Mrs. Bailey repeatedly faints throughout the adventure in the tesseract house.
  • Going in Circles: Teal winds up chasing himself around the entire tesseract several times before retrieving his own dropped hat and realizing what's happened.
  • Henpecked Husband: Bailey shows signs of this as his wife can be quite shrewish. However, given the events of the story, her dislike of Teal may be well placed.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: The characters become trapped in the fourth dimension while being three dimensional themselves. It makes for difficulty moving through and escaping the house, including life-threatening peril like a window that faces down from several thousand feet up.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: When Teal hands Bailey a shot of liquor to help revive his wife, he downs it himself.
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  • Impossibly-Compact Folding: The tesseract.
  • Literary Allusion Title: To the nursery rhyme There Was A Crooked Man.
  • Motor Mouth: As Teal becomes more excited about a topic, especially architecture and theoretical geometry, he excitedly babbles on at length, whether anyone can follow him or not.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: "Teal lifted the blind a few inches. He saw nothing, and raised it a little more — still nothing. Slowly he raised it until the window was fully exposed. They gazed out at — nothing. Nothing, nothing at all. What color is nothing? Don't be silly! What shape is it? Shape is an attribute of something. It had neither depth nor form. It had not even blackness. It was nothing."
  • Only in America: The introduction to the story is the perfect explanation of this trope.
    "Americans are considered crazy anywhere in the world. They will usually concede a basis for the accusation but point to California as the focus of the infection. Californians stoutly maintain that their bad reputation is derived solely from the acts of the inhabitants of Los Angeles County. Angelenos will, when pressed, admit the charge but explain hastily, 'It's Hollywood. It's not our fault, we didn't ask for it; Hollywood just grew.' The people in Hollywood don't care; they glory in it. If you are interested, they will drive you up Laurel Canyon 'where we keep the violent cases.' The Canyonites — the brown-legged women, the trunks-clad men constantly busy building and rebuilding their slap-happy unfinished houses — regard with faint contempt the dull creatures who live down in the flats, and treasure in their hearts the secret knowledge that they, and only they, know how to live."
  • We Are Not Going Through That Again: When Teal announces that he has another idea for a house, Bailey tries to deck him.