While going through some old family papers, I have come across a document, a case study written by a distant cousin of mine, Dr A.S. Axo, former Head of the Department of Trivial Matters at the Trembling Waters Academy on Hesse. No doubt he intended to publish it in his short-lived chronicle, “The Nitpicker’s Corner”, of which only one ever appeared in Cosmopolis #43, October 2003, page 8.

Since this prestigious magazine is as defunct as my distant cousin (at least, we suppose so: his disappearance remains mysterious), I felt it important to honour his memory by publishing it here.

Here’s the case at hand : how flat could Gersen’s flat black case be when he returned to Interchange in order to rescind Alusz Iphigenia Eperje-Tokay? You all recall the passage, I’m sure:

The clerk made nervous movements. “The fee is large. Ten billion SVU.”

Gersen opened the flat black case he was carrying, withdrew packets of bank notes in 100,000 SVU denominations: the largest in circulation. “Here is the money.”

Dr Axo decided to use, as a first approximation, a 100 dollar bill as a basis for his calculations. (Personally, I think that a 100,000 SVU, corresponding roughly to 1,000,000 dollars, would be of slightly more majestic dimensions, but we’ll come back to that in due time.)

A C-note, as it is called, has the following characteristics :

15.6 cm by 6.6 cm

a stack of one hundred bills is about 1.1 cm thick

weight: 1 gram.

Ten billion SVU represents 100,000 banknotes of 100,000 SVU, and therefore 1,000 stacks of 100 bills. Stacked in one pile, this would reach a height of 11 meters, quite impressive. The weight is no problem for such an athlete as Gersen : only 10 kilos.

Let’s consider a reasonably sized suitcase, measuring 78 cm by 53 cm. You could stack in it one layer of 40 100-notes bundles (5x8, i.e. 5 lengthwise = 5x15.6= 78 cm, tight fit, and 8 sidewise = 8x6.6=52.8 cm)

Therefore, you would need 25 such layers (25x40=1,000). Ergo, Gersen’s “flat” case is 25 cm thick.

Dr Axo does not consider this as “flat” (neither do I). How flat is flat ? A dictionary definition is “not deep or thick”… Doesn’t help much.

On a purely subjective basis, of course, Dr Axo decided that “flat”, for a suitcase at least, should not exceed something like 15 cm.

Such a suitcase, with only 15 layers, would then require one layer to contain 66.66 100-notes bundles. Let’s try to ease up a bit on the height of the suitcase, at a maximum value of 66 cm (more than that, the suitcase will drag on the floor unless you happen to have a very short arm, or you’re a giant). You can then put 10 bundles sidewise (10x6.6=66 cm), and you need to put 7 bundles lengthwise, which means the suitcase has to be something like 109 cm long (7x15.6=109.2).

Now, a 109 by 66 by 15 cm suitcase is quite a monster… If you allow “flat” to reach 17 cm, you can then have a layer of 60 bundles (the top layer contains only 40 bundles), and the suitcase will then be 94 by 66 by 17 cm. Still a very large suitcase.

My cousin concludes with the following : “Jack could well have dispensed with the “flat” adjective. The text as it stands convey the idea of a small attaché-case, which just does not match the physical necessities of reality.”

In fact, as I mentioned above, the use of the C-note characteristics is a “a minima” hypothesis. A 100,000 SVU bill, in my mind, should be larger. Let’s say 50% larger. Using a factor of 1.22 (square root of 1.5), the dimensions become :

19 cm by 8 cm

a stack of one hundred bills is still about 1.1 cm thick

weight: 1.5 grams.

I’ll leave it to you to redo the calculations accordingly. You will find, unless I’m mistaken, that you need a suitcase measuring 76 by 56 by 36 cm (36 layers of 28 bundles of 100 notes).

And if you want to make it much flatter, it becomes awesome, with a 152 by 64 by 16 cm suitcase…. (16 layers of 64 bundles of 100 notes)

So, all in all, the reality of it is that Gersen probably took a trolley suitcase, just like any ordinary modern traveller. But the picture it evokes is definitely less impressive than the “flat black case” Jack had in mind…