24

I picked this hardcover book up at an overstock store in the late '70s or early '80s and I haven't found the identification on Stack or other sources during sporadic searches in the past year. (The cover was an unremarkable beige.)

I remember two stories. In one, blurbed on the dust jacket, the genius/inventor is being shown some sort of government data repository where the information was secured by long strings of numbers. When he questions the security of the system he's told the odds of anyone coming up with a correct string are infinitely small, but somehow he guesses one and the whole system has to be redesigned.

In the other story I recall, he's trying to make some sort of cheap and plentiful food, but comes up with an addictive substance that makes people obese. Somehow he realizes the molecule turns unstable and explosive, but it's too late to stop its spread. I think the final line was something like, "And then someone sneezed."

My Google-fu has failed me.

1 Answer 1

25

After posting this the name "Eisenberg" swam up out of my subconscious, so I Googled "sci-fi author eisenberg" and found the 1971 collection "The Best Laid Schemes" by Larry Eisenberg (his only collection), which has the relatively bland cover I remember.

cover of the book The Best Laid Schemes in tan with a funky illustration of a man and a possibly robotic woman.

Per Wikipedia:

Many of Eisenberg's stories feature his character Professor Emmet Duckworth, a research scientist and two-time winner of the Nobel Prize. Duckworth's "bright ideas seem great at first but always end in disaster"[11] with one of the professor's many inventions being "an addictive aphrodisiac clocking in at 150,000 calories per ounce —along with a propensity to turn those taking it into walking bombs."

Just for completion:

The aphrodisiac story is "The Saga of DMM" and the crypto story is "The Open Secrets".

5
  • 11
    There's nothing wrong with answering your own question. It happens all the time—to me and to many other users—that just taking the time to type out the question and call to mind everything you can recall about a work can set you on the right path to remembering what it was.
    – Buzz
    Feb 12 at 1:40
  • 8
    Dang it, I pulled that book down, looked through it, and totally missed them. They are the first two stories in the book. I knew I had read them, mutter mutter. Feb 12 at 2:41
  • 4
    Just for interest's sake, 55 years after it was written, the 42-bit code in The Open Secrets is pretty close to the average human password entropy, and according to this article, 42 bits can be guessed almost instantaneously on a dedicated machine with consumer-grade hardware.
    – Bobson
    Feb 12 at 10:31
  • 1
    I had even searched for "Duckworth's macromolecule" but there turn out to be a lot of scientists named Duckworth who work on molecules. Feb 12 at 16:13
  • 1
    After reading this thread, I went to my local library and checked out the book (they had to get it through their network). Good stuff; recommended! (PS- this copy has a badly sunbleached purple cover & the dust jacket is long gone :- ) 2 days ago

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.