In The Cross-Time Engineer, a story of an engineer kicked back in time, who proceeds to try to remake his society around him. (Gee like that's a new idea, but it is still a lot of fun).

I remember there is one point where he gets cartography going and requires that North and South as we know it, be reversed, sort of as a perverse way of defanging later Polish jokes.

What other such 'innovations' does he introduce, just to defang a future Polish joke. (It is a kind of amusing and unimportant sub plot that continues in the theme of just being a fun series to read!)

  • 2
    What does reversing north and south have to do with Polish jokes?? – Rand al'Thor Nov 4 '14 at 21:18

I disagree that he was trying to defang future "Look how stupid Polish people are" jokes.

Everything that he set up was done in a logical and plausible way (at least, according to my memory... it's been a long time since I read the novels).

  1. Counting in Base 12 (ie. 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, 10, 11) was done because merchants at the time dealt in gross (groups of 12)
  2. Clock pendulum goes front-back (wud wud) instead of left-right (tick tock) was because he couldn't figure out how to build a "correct" casement works
  3. Clock hands go "counter clockwise" because he had to place the clock at the south end of the room and wanted the hands to follow the sun
  4. Weaving looms had long threads left-to-right instead of forward-back. I don't recall why (something about allowing multiple women to work in a circle?)
  5. Measuring power as women-power instead of horse-power was because they didn't have a lot of horses (before the "Large People" breeding program) and most large machines were powered by women walking back and forth along a seesaw device
  6. Top of the map is South (not North) because that's the direction you face when looking at the clock
  7. Steering wheel in the boat was reversed because that's a closer analog to how you actually steer a boat using a steering oar (or tiller_rudder)
  8. Forward (go up) / backward (go down) motion of the airplane controls is reversed from our world because that corresponds with the way hang glider controls work (which were the precurser to airplanes)
  9. Airplane propeller was on the back of the airplane instead of the front. (I forget why that was... something about having a single-stroke engine?). though it does allow the pilot much better visibility forward and below the aircraft
  • Interesting. I read it the other way, and assumed it was to defang the polish jokes... Not arguing if it made sense, but perhaps as a side affect. (I disagree with you, but +1 since it is so well said!) – geoffc May 27 '11 at 20:35
  • Amazing, I haven't read those books in ages but even still I remembered almost none of these details! – UuDdLrLrSs Aug 5 '19 at 5:23
  • You forgot the "building a mile high smokestack laying on the ground" in the brick factory. And, the clocks went "fump, fump, fump" instead of "tick, tock." – JRE Aug 5 '19 at 11:06
  • Much of what happens, happens for good reason. The pilot/engineers who built the first airplanes (in the books) were the same guys who built and flew the first hang gliders. They stuck with the one control system instead of developing two. The steermen on the ships were all boatsmen who already knew how to sail - Conrad stuck with their system after one of them rebuilt the steering on his ship because the new way confused him - and they needed all the trained people they could get, which meant making use of people who knew the older way of steering a ship. – JRE Aug 5 '19 at 11:11
  • The weaving looms thing actually had the threads arranged the same as in a modern loom. They just named them differently because it made more sense to them. Why bother learning the terms "warp" and "woof" when "long threads" and "short threads" are more descriptive? – JRE Aug 5 '19 at 11:13

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