Like nearly every creative genius before him, Mike Pitzel would like to explain his creation to curious laymen. After all it really is so simple, this Trimobius. Just imagine a Mobius band constructed in a closed surface. A Mobius band, of course, is that mathematical improbability - a one-sided surface. It ranks alongside that other geometric unicorn, the Klein bottle, which has no inside or outside. So shy does Pitzel continually refer to Euclidean time-space and the singularity of the black holes as he tries to explain?
"As far as Ican determine," says the twenty-eight-year-old computer programmer, "the Trimobius is a novel example
of a new approach to quantum mechanics. It is a structure which lends itself to a discussion of the Field theory, which unites gravity and electricity and all other well-known forces. But anyway, one of the things I'm pursuing is whether this is part of the quark theory of quantum mechanics. Most interpretations of quarks don't lend themselves to a geometric interpretation of the particle, though. [He laughs at his little joke.] BasicalIy, what a Trimobius is."
Still having trouble? For utilitarians, the Trimobius also has a number of practical uses. It can be a handkerchief, bow, tie, pouch, bilIfold, secret money holder, carrying bag, napkin, hand puppet, pot holder, planter cover, wash cloth, turban, muff, stored-item protector, sleeping bag, (the large ones only naturally) and multipurpse reflector for photographers.
Pitzel sits in the Poway living room of his friend and agent Steve Mikrut through a marketing class at National University, where Pitzel was was seeking some practical applications for his novel creation. Pitzel proceeds to do some magic tricks with the Trimobius. He has a number of them in different sizes and materials, but they are all essentially the same.
The Trimobius is cut from a single piece of material and sewn in such a way that it creates two pockets in a thirty-sixty-ninety-degree triangle. (For most versions, Pitzel makes the longest side about twelve inches). The curious aspect of the Trimobius is that it can be turned inside out, and inside out, and inside out and... We could go on, but suffice it to say the Trimobius has six unique surfaces of two sides each, always maintaining a secret compartment buried somewhere in its depths. The amazing thing, however, is that only one seam is used.
Pitzel discovered the Trimobius while studying an advanced course of topology -- a sophisticated branch of mathematics -- at Michigan State Univertsiy in 1976. The figures on paper said it couldn't be done, that it was a physical impossibility, this morphism from a Mobius strip to the closure of a Mobius strip. (To make a Mobius stip, take a long, narrow piece of paper and twist one end 180 degrees, then tape the ends together. Trace it with a pencil. It has only one side.) But Pitzel made a concrete example of his discovery from an old pair of Levis, and promptly received an A in the course.
He hitchhiked to Washington, D.C., that summer, where he worked for three months arranging for and researching his desired patent. "People have considered this creation before in the study of mathematics, but without the Mobius implications, "Pitzel says. It's referred to as the dunce cap." So, in his research, Pitzel came across distant cousins of his Trimobius. "Other people had reversible hats," he says of his experience at the U.S. Office of Patents. "One guy had a round leather hat that went like phut [Pitzel snaps his hands as if inverting an imaginary round, leather hat], bu there was no patent on my discovery." There are twenty-two separate claims protecting Pitzel's patent; the document comprises forty-four drawings and is eleven pages long.
The patent description is rather verbose, but that's all right because Pitzel has made up a little instruction booklet for those of us who cut our quantum mechanics class once too often. He and agent Mikrut have been sending out prototypes (which Pitzel sews on a machine in his small La Mesa apartment) to manufacturers and have received nibbles from Levi Strauss & Company and Pierre Cardin. They have already sold one order of Trimobiuses to an Aspen ski apparel shop, to be made from a thermal material and used as ski caps.
Which is all nice and good, says Pitzel, but he's more concerned with bucking the mathematics establishment and proving the actualization of the enclosed Mobius. "An article was written about the. so-called dunce cap in Topology in 1963," says Pitzel, "but the author [Dr. E.C. Zeeman] never mentioned the fact that there was a Mobius band embedded within the creation, That's like writing about the wheel and not mentioning that if you put a hole through its center you can stick in axle through it and open up a whole range of new possibilities." While he doesn't claim that the Trimobius is a discovery on par with the wheel, he does feel it is a discovery of important magnitude. He says he has friends at Femilab facility in Chicago (a high-powered physics research think tank) who have accepted the existence of Trimobius for what it really is, but he won't feel secure about his discovery, he says, until it is written up in a scientific journal. AIthough Pitzel claims to have an IQ of 165 (based on a battery of tests given him by his Jesuit teachers in high school in Omaha), he graduated with only bachelor degrees from college (in math···· and literature) and does not have the advanced knowledge needed for a scholarly algebraic analysis.
Even so, the Trimobius - although it hasn't been baptized in Topology, is sitting right there, right on Pitzel's hand. "Actually," he says, "I like the puppet the best. See, I made it into a puppet."