The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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Chapter 14 Summary

The Dodecahedron Leads the Way

The road ahead of the travelers divides into three branches, and an enormous road sign points in all three directions giving the distance to Digitopolis in miles, rods, yards, feet, inches, and half-inches. The Humbug wants to travel by miles because it is shorter, but Milo prefers half-inches because it is quicker. All Tock knows is that which road they take must make a difference.

A peculiar little man appears and tells them it does, indeed, matter which road they take. The man is constructed of lines and angles, marked with capital and small letters, connected together into a solid, many-sided shape. He introduces himself as the Dodecahedron, a mathematical shape with twelve faces. Just as he says this, eleven other faces appear, one on each of the Dodecahedron’s surfaces, and each one wears a different expression.

Milo introduces himself, and the figure notes that Milo only has one face; that is not a bad thing, but the Dodecahedron is afraid Milo will wear out his one face by using it for everything. He wonders if everyone with one face is called Milo, but the boy assures him that people are called by many names. The Dodecahedron exclaims that it must be so confusing to live that way. Here, everything is called exactly what it is because everything in Digitopolis is quite precise.

The travelers ask the figure for help deciding which road to take, and immediately the Dodecahedron recites a complicated word problem which should help them determine the proper course. Milo figures frantically but is still unsure of the correct answer, as he is not very good at such problems. Numbers are quite useful, according to the Dodecahedron, for they always give an accurate answer, even if the question is wrong.

Tock has been doing the math and now announces that all three roads will get them to Digitopolis at the same time. The Dodecahedron concurs and offers to take them there. The road is bumpy and every time they hit a bump, the Dodecahedron bounces up and lands on one of his many faces. They climb higher and higher into a barren land of rocks and stones when suddenly the creature is bounced completely out of the car, landing sad-face-up at the mouth of a cave.

Numbers are mined, not made, but Milo says he does not think numbers are very important. The Dodecahedron explodes and asks how anyone could have tea for two, or three blind mice, or four corners of the earth, or sail the seven seas without numbers. He continues his tirade, wondering how high one’s hopes might be, or how one could travel the whole wide world, or do anything at long last without using numbers. He tells the travelers to follow him into the cave; as their eyes adjust to the...

(The entire section is 732 words.)