Study Guide

Cat's Cradle Chapter 20

By Kurt Vonnegut

Chapter 20


  • Prepare for a drastic turn into science fiction.
  • Dr. Breed explains that liquids can crystallize in several ways depending on the order their atoms are stacked and locked in.
  • He suggests visualizing the way cannonballs are stacked in front of courthouses.
  • If the atoms are stacked in different ways, even if from the same substance, the crystal will have drastically different properties.
  • Once one pattern of stacking atoms is introduced into a system, all other matter in the system must stack to fit the initial pattern.
  • Science Snack: All atoms in a crystal must be stacked and ordered in the same fashion. If they aren't, then it isn't a crystal.
  • So, Hoenikker proposed a seed that could be introduced to the water. It would introduce a form of atom stacking that they'll just call ice-nine. The water atoms when matching the form would be solid and have a melting point of, let's say, 130 degrees.
  • Before the conversation can continue, the Girl Pool arrives singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem."
  • But they mess up one of the lines—oops—singing: "The hopes and fears of all the years are here with us tonight" (20.14).