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Literature / Murderous Maths

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Murderous Maths is a series of books written by Kjartan Poskitt to make kids learn maths, and it might just have succeeded. The characters it uses include Riverboat Lil, the Evil Gollarks, Professor Fiendish, the gang of criminals led by Blade Bocelli... the list goes on, in the name of demonstrating various principles and equations. The books are filled with plenty of gags, as it is with many of Poskitt's books. Despite this, some fairly high-level maths (for kids' standards, anyway) is covered in a fairly lighthearted style.

The books in the series are:note 

  • Guaranteed to Bend your Brain (aka Murderous Maths)
  • Guaranteed to Mash your Mind (aka More Murderous Maths)
  • Awesome Arithmetricks (aka The Essential Arithmetricks) (basic functions, manipulating equations, long division etc.)
  • The Mean and Vulgar Bits (fractions and averages)
  • Desperate Measures (measurements and shape formulas)
  • Do You Feel Lucky? (probability)
  • Savage Shapes (aka Vicious Circles and Other Savage Shapes) (polygons and formulas for various parts of shapes)
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  • The Key to the Universe (number property equations, Fibbonaci etc. right up to irrational transcendental numbers and imaginary numbers)
  • The Phantom X (algebra and graphs)
  • The Fiendish Angletron (trigonometry)
  • The Perfect Sausage (formulas for just about everything, mostly shapes and physics)
  • The 5ecret L1fe of Code5 (aka Codes: How to Make Them and Break Them) (patterns and logic)
  • Easy Questions, Evil Answers (formulas, problem solving, paradoxes etc.)
  • The Murderous Maths of Everything (a bit of all of the above)

There are also several spin-off books, including a book of Su Doku and a follow-up book of Kakuro and other number puzzles, plus a puzzle book, Professor Fiendish's Book of Diabolical Brain-Benders. Abridged versions of some of the books aimed at younger readers also exist.


This series of books provides examples of:

  • Alien Invasion: The Gollarks try this several times, so they can tip over all the wastebaskets on Planet Earth. Gasp!
  • Anachronism Stew: The Su Doku book has a running story with Blade and the gangsters trying to complete one in a newspaper in 1920s America. (Whilst the date is totally anachronistic, they are an American invention.)
  • An Axe to Grind: Urgum the Axeman. Grizelda's also been shown with a triple-bladed battleaxe at one point.
  • Arch-Enemy: Professor Fiendish to the reader.
  • Art Shift: Philip Reeve was unavailable for The 5ecret L1fe of Code5 or The Murderous Maths of Everything (although he did return for Easy Questions, Evil Answers, which was the Grand Finale as the final regular book in the series) because he was busy with the Mortal Engines series. The replacement illustrators were very clearly trying to ape his style, to the point that the copyright notice gave him credit for the art being based on his work.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The titular machine in The Fiendish Angletron plots an unrestricted tan wave at 90 degrees to escape from its creator's money-making scheme.
  • Author Tract: Do You Feel Lucky? dedicates several pages to explaining why gambling is stupid and coming up with creative insults for people who use slot machines in particular, using the most Too Dumb to Live character in the entire series, Binky Smallbrains, as an example.
  • Back from the Dead: Pythagoras. The reason why is so he can stand trial and prove that his theorem works without using any calculations In Vicious Circles.
  • Big Eater: Porky.
  • BFG: You can rent them from the Murderous Maths' Weapons Department. These were used to explain how 'planes' worked by having a girl borrow a stereotypical laser gun to kill flies with. She starts off by being in the exact spot to kill two of them at the same time with the laser beam, but has difficulty trying to kill an additional third one, so she borrows another weapon which shoots out giant sheet panes of glass. Then...
    Girl: There's four flies now!
    Weapons Department Clerk: (brandishing a huge gun) Okay, they asked for it...
  • Bloodless Carnage: The gangsters have attacked each other many times, yet somehow the only casualties come from among the ranks of Luigi's furniture.
  • Breakout Character: Professor Fiendish proved so popular that he eventually headlined his own puzzle book, as well as one of the regular books in the series, The Fiendish Angletron.
  • Buffy Speak: Dolly Snowlips claims to have a "hot cooking-machine what-d'ya-call-it job", which in English is known as an "oven".
  • Death from Above: The Evil Gollarks randomly show up in Do You Feel Lucky? dropping extremely heavy objects out of their spaceship on people For the Evulz. This comes to an end when they throw the spaceship's control panel on someone.
  • Decided by One Vote: In The Key to the Universe, a poll of 100 million people to determine if 1 is a prime number or not ends up this way... because over 99 million of the respondents answered "don't care" and several hundred more answered "don't know", meaning "yes" won by 8 votes to 7.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: At one point, the two barbarians, Urgum the Axeman and Grizelda the Grizzley, nearly end up killing each other over Grizelda's cat visiting Urgum's window box.
  • The Dreaded: Gangsters who will cheerfully maul the hell out of each other given half a chance are terrified of Ma Butcher and Long Jake.
  • Early Installment Character-Design Difference: Professor Fiendish's appearance didn't get nailed down until around Do You Feel Lucky?
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first two books, having originally been part of another series, feature far fewer of any of the recurring characters and have no specific topic. Philip Reeve also didn't become the series' regular illustrator until Desperate Measures.
    • The story involving the gangsters in the first book (written with no expectation there'd be any more) ends in them all dying in a brawl at Luigi's diner. They pulled an Unexplained Recovery in the second book, and later books retconned it to their brawls being a regular occurrence that just smash up all the furniture.
  • Exact Words: To teach excluded angles, one of Blade's quests for money involves finding the coffin of fabled gangster Bluetooth Fonetti, who set up his own funeral to hide a stash of gold he stole in his coffin. Dolly begrudgingly gives them instructions on how to find it. They come up with a diagram which follows the instructions to the letter...except that after they left, Dolly knows they actually screwed up considering on how Bluetooth wrote the directions to his burial site. The book then draws a more-technical diagram which reveals why: There's two possible locations where the coffin is buried.
  • Friendly Enemy: Grizelda and Urgum, usually. One book had her army and his seventeen sons fight each other in a friendly skirmish and have a party the following night comparing their new scars.
  • Harmless Villain: Both Professor Fiendish and the Gollarks. The former always conducts a plan to either swindle you out of your money or just For the Evulz. The latter make continuous threats to destroy humanity, but they've failed so many times that it's pretty much become a Running Gag met with a Dull Surprise.
  • Hell Hole Prison: One is mentioned in More Murderous Maths.
  • Hidden Depths: As much as a dumbass Binky Smallbrains is, he has a penchant for fixing playing card hands without anyone noticing usually for jokes.
  • Lethal Chef:
    • Dolly Snowlips, as it turns out, cannot cook. Her first cake's smell overpowered her perfume and the gangsters just hid the slices.
    • Pongo McWhiffy is the prime example of the series. He tends to cook generally unappetising burgers where one experimental line was so disgusting that an entire chapter in The Phantom X was dedicated to calculating trajectory based on how far and high his taste-testers threw them in disgust. Blue ketchup anyone?
  • Little Green Men: The Gollarks fit this trope exactly.
  • Mad Scientist: Professor Fiendish.
  • Meaningful Name: Pongo McWhiffy. Professor Fiendish. Rodney Bounder.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: The Gollarks (yet again) attempt to destroy humanity by getting help from another alien race called the "Ploog Warriors". Problem is, they speak different languages, requiring an interpreter between them. All the Ploogs' translation attempts fail along with it taken Up to Eleven when the Gollarks enlist the help of several other species with individual languages which would require more interpreters between all of them than warriors. This ultimately causes the entire plan to botch within a few minutes when they all can't understand the Gollarks' directions and crash into each other.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome:
    • In the gangsters' story in Desperate Measures, Weasel (not entirely voluntary) is lowered out of a window on a rope as part of a heist, and plans to swing himself out and crash through the window of the room where a priceless painting is being held. For once in his otherwise miserable life he manages to win the respect of the other gangsters, and Blade is moved to tears by his bravery... except he ends up crashing through the wrong window, because the gangsters made the rope from their belts and braces and Weasel's weight stretched it out.
    • Desperate Measures sees the Gollarks try to use a doomsday weapon to blow up the Earth in a chapter explaining scientific notation. The device is measured in zzaps, where each zzap is roughly equal to a giant volcano exploding. Unfortunately for the Gollarks, they set it to 8.91 x 10^-14, which leads to the weapon briefly shuddering before keeling over ineffectually.
    • The chapter introducing algebraic equations in The Phantom X illustrations various examples with the barbarian leaders Urgum, Grizelda and Hunjah purchasing weaponry from the local superstore. It all adds up to a huge war about to break out... only for the chapter to finish before the big fight anyway. The barbarians are visibly displeased at not being able to try out their cannons and arrows.
  • Nintendo Hard: Professor Fiendish's Book of Diabolical Brain-Benders is this for puzzle books. Taken Up to Eleven by the final puzzle, The Devil's Dice, which involves two dice with numbers such as 18 and 91 on them, so you can't tell whether it should be 18 or 81, 91 or 16, and so on; the challenge is to work out what the two numbers on the bottom of the dice add up to on the third throw, having been shown the results of two previous throws, and unlike every other puzzle in the book, no answer is provided. (It was accidentally made Unintentionally Unwinnable in early printings, which transposed the illustrations of the second and third throws.)
  • Oh, Crap!: The gangsters' reaction in Vicious Circles, at the prospect of having to eat some of Dolly's cooking. Also their usual reaction whenever Ma Butcher and Long Silver Jake show up.
  • Paper Tiger: The Gollarks sic a Battle Cruiser on humanity at one point. It's huge, looks ominous, packed with offensive weaponry, frequently referred to as The Dreaded, and can apparently move at a top speed of "180 glomps per mnult". So what went wrong? It's revealed that a "glomph" is only a few kilometres and a "mnult" is 3 days. Turns out that it's slower than an average snail and tastes like lettuce, which it promptly gets outran by a horde of snails and eaten to scrap
  • Rage Against the Author: Zig-zagged with Poskitt. He's either heavily worshipped (usually by the narrator) or dogged on by the Murderous Maths employees or the current book's artist.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Chainsaw Charlie's chainsaw-shaped suitcase, as it turns out, contains a chainsaw-shaped chainsaw.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: One gag has a Pure Mathematician give a very detailed and fancy-sounding description of a diagram. Turns out the diagram is shaped like a pair of underpants with each vertex spelling out "BIG PANTS".
  • Take That!: On occasion, the books have humorously poked fun at the Horrible Science series, including one experiment in The Phantom X involving woodlice and caterpillars being shredded into dollops, and has the passing remark: "When you've done a few Murderous Maths experiments, even the most horrible science will seem a bit dull". Somewhat justified in the introduction to The Key to the Universe, as the author explains that while other subjects such as language, biology and history are interesting in their own right, they're not as universal between cultures compared to numbers.
  • The Pig-Pen: Pongo McWhiffy, whose defining trait is being perpetually surrounded by flies and well, fitted with a first name and a surname concerning bad smells.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Possibly the Evil Gollarks. Definitely Binky.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Binky Smallbrains, one of several inhabitants of Fogsworth Manor.
  • Vague Age: One of the puzzles in Professor Fiendish's Book of Diabolical Brain-Benders gives Primrose Poppet's (one of the residents of Fogsworth Manor) age as 13, but the way Philip Reeve illustrates her and some of her appearances (such as playing cards with the other Fogsworths) seem to suggest she is at least a little older.