Preamble: The plot and the title for this story belongs to Robert Heinlein. I read it in a science fiction anthology decades ago and thought it was pretty amusing. Unfortunately, I don't know where to find it. I have rewritten it from scratch to go with my paper on relativity. Here's:
...And He Built a Crooked
September 1, 1997
"Now here's a house that's
really distinctive," said Herbie.
Herbie never saw a house he didn't like.
Chuck and Margie squinted at the assemblage of truncated pyramids that dominated the dusty California hilltop. Looking at this house appeared to be a waste of time. But neither of them demurred when Herbie opened the door of his Cadillac and led them up the steep wooden steps.
"Guy who built this place is a mathematical physicist. He teaches relativity at Caltech. He built it in the form of an unfolded tesserecta four-dimensional cube. It's pretty inside. It has a built-in vacuum. You're gonna like it."
Margie didn't think so. The sides tilted back at 45° like a gable roof or a truncated A-frame. The wide squat windows were recessed into the sloping walls. It had a breadboard-flat roof. It was different all right. There were no eaves and no visible eave troughs, just the bleak slabs with tilted sides. It was about as far as you can get from the Cape Cod or Tudor styles she liked. She asked Herbie about the eave troughs.
"Oh, they're recessed into the roof," he said. "Elegant, huh?"
Inside, it was cool, white and bright. The marble-paved foyer was a happy surprise, as was the thick, resilient carpeting. Margie liked the nine-foot high ceilings and the massive crown molding.
"Computer, vacuum the living room floor," Herbie said.
Nothing happened. He said it again. This time, there were a couple of clicks and then a tank-type vacuum cleaner emerged from a pair of little swinging doors by the closet door and began to vacuum one end of the living room carpet. Margie began to see possibilities for this house.
Herbie said, "Computer, stop vacuuming the living room floor."
The vacuum sweeper obediently quit droning, rolled down the middle of the living room floor until it was abreast of the little doors, turned toward them and rolled back behind them.
"How about that!" said Herbie. "Wouldn't that be great when you're tired after a party?"
Herbie led them through a wainscoted/wall-papered nine-foot by nine-foot dining room with a pretty cut-glass chandelier into a large white kitchen to the right of the dining room. The walls of the dining room were vertical, unlike the other six rooms of the house. The kitchen had a pantry and lots of storage cabinets.
"That chandelier and this wainscoting add a lot to the value of the dining room," said Herbie. "They're expensive. This is a quality house."
The kitchen had new Jenn-Aire appliances and an area in front of a window overlooking the valley for a kitchen table and chairs. Herbie said,
"Isn't this a beautiful kitchen. Computer, mop the kitchen floor."
Another robotic retainer rolled out of a stall in the pantry and began to work on one corner of the kitchen, apparently mopping the kitchen floor.
By now, Margie could see definite possibilities for this house that weren't apparent from the other side of the front door.
"Imagine never having to mop the kitchen floor again," said Herbie.
They went back through the dining room into the master bedroom at the left side of the dining room, with its wall-screen TV and its electrical controls for opening and closing the drapes.
"You talk about a convenient house," said Herbie. "You could run the entertainment center and open and close the blinds without ever getting out of bed."
The master bath was elegant, with a luxurious jacuzzi, a transparent glass shower stall, and the his-and-hers sinks.
"This bathroom is one of the most elegant baths I've ever seen in all my years as a realtor," said Herbie.
There was a book rack and a telephone which could double as an intercom beside the commode.
"Notice this book rack and this phone beside the commode," said Herbie.
Behind the dining room was the first guest bedroom, then a hall with guest baths on both sides. Behind this was the second guest bedroom. At the back end of the second bedroom was a small hardwood foyer and the back door. Basically, the house had the cubical dining room, plus six 18-foot by 18-foot square, slant-sided rooms, but they were elegantly appointed.
Suddenly, there was a thundering roar. It sounded like a jet aircraft coming through the roof. The floor rocked beneath them, followed by a loud "Cru-u-ump!"
"It's a quake!" shouted Chuck. They raced for the front door. But when they opened it to dash through, they found themselves in the dining room.
"What's going on here?" Chuck bellowed.
"First time we've ever had a quake around here in all my years as a realtor," said Herbie.
They ran through the dining room and the bedrooms to the back doorand found themselves once again looking into the dining room!
"What the Sam Hill is happening here?" said Chuck.
The house seemed to be unharmed.
"As you can see, this is a well-built house," said Herbie. "Quality construction throughout."
At that moment, Margie gasped.
"Look at that!" she said. Standing in the dining room, she was looking through the living room window. Outside was a lush jungle of spiky purple plants under impossibly-blue-white sunshine. As they watched, an insect with large shimmering wings flew by and was snatched from mid-air by a snapping pod on one of the plants. From his vantage point in the dining room, Chuck looked through the kitchen window and saw a blizzard in progress, then through the master bedroom window to see a night sky and a huge, ringed, red-and-yellow moon.
"This can't be real!" said Chuck.
"Isn't it pretty?" said Herbie. "What a spectacular set of views you'd have from your windows!"
"How do we get out of here?" said Margie.
"I think I think" said Herbie.
"What do you think?" said Margie.
"You remember I said the guy that built this house built it in the form of an unfolded four-dimensional cube?"
"Yes," said Margie.
"I think maybe that quake folded it into the fourth dimension."
"That's crazy!" said Chuck.
"How do we get out of here?" said Margie.
"Well, I'm not sure," said Herbie. "Let's look out the other windows."
They went into the living room and found that its three windows all looked out onto the purple landscape.
"Rhodopsin," said Chuck. "That's probably what its photosynthesis cycle is based on. Rhodopsin-based photosynthesis is generally found where oxygen levels are too low for a plant to breathe at night. And this is probably a very hot blue-white star. That means lots of solar and ultraviolet energy, and it could mean plants that have a large enough energy budget to be ambulatory. That would explain the plant catching that bug."
"It's so bright and cheerful in here," said Herbie.
They went into the kitchen, where all three windows faced a blizzard. Next came the master bedroom with its twilit green landscape. After that, they visited the middle bedroom where they looked out upon a grassy savannah. A herd of six-legged, elephant-sized ungulates with triple hornswere grazing the green grass. Along the horizon was what seemed to be an exotic town, although it was hard to tell at that distance.
"Where there are herbivores that large and well-armored, there are bound to be carnivores to match," said Chuck.
"But wouldn't it be fun to watch them from the comfort and safety of your bedroom?" said Herbie.
Finally, they went into the back bedroom where they found the most startling scenes of all. Off in the distance, under twin suns, was a large, ultra-modern city, with sleek cars and aircraft coming and going. The land immediately around them appeared to be farm land, with crops growing in orderly rows.
"Isn't this great!" said Herbie. "Everybody's going to want to see your new house."
"How can they," wailed Marge, "when we're trapped in the fourth dimension!"
"Well, let me try something," said Herbie. "Computer, unfold this house."
This time, instead of a loud "Cru-u-ump", there was a whining of gears. The views out the windows immediately disappeared, to be replaced by visions of blue sky. After about twenty seconds during which no one said anything, the mountains began to appear at the bottom of the kitchen window. Within a few more seconds, the whining stopped and the familiar California landscape was visible through the windows. They rushed out the door and down the walk, with Herbie talking all the way.
"I thought the guy who built this house might have set it up this way," he said. "All you have to do is tell the computer when you want to fold it and when you want to unfold it. Think of the possibilities! You can explore new worlds. You'll be famous. Do you want to go back to the real estate office and put down some earnest money? I think the guy just might come down on his price. He's eager to sell."
"I'll bet he is," said Marge.
Just then, there was another violent ground tremor that almost shook them off their feet. When they looked back at the house, it was gone.
"Darn," said Herbie. "I hope he has plenty of quake insurance."
They walked in silence back to the car. For once, Herbie wasn't selling. Then as they started back to town, he brightened.
"Y'know, I've got a house over in Topanga Canyon that might be just right for you. It was built by this inventor who claims to have invented a time machine. Wanta go see it?"