3x3: favorite uses of math

We discuss our favorite uses of math in movies at the one-hour mark of the Qt3 Movie Podcast of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Tom Chick
3. True Grit
2. Sorcerer

  1. Margin Call

3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
2. Big

  1. Apollo 13

Kelly Wand
3. Back to School
2. This Is Spinal Tap

  1. Plan 9 from Outer Space

What are your favorite uses of math in the movies? Please listen to the show to hear us elaborate on ours, and hear about a gazillion listener submissions. To contribute to next week’s topic, please write us at [email protected].

Here’s my Serious Man pick Kelly Wand cruelly (albeit understandbly) cut short. I particularly love the shot of Larry dwarfed by the Uncertainty Principle equation. It’s basically the theme of the movie in a nutshell.

I only got one:

1 + 2 + 2 + 1

It’s My Turn (1980) is reasonably well-known in math circles for having a moderately convincing sketch of the proof of the snake lemma from homological algebra.

Unfortunately, the only part of the exchange with the student that really rings true is probably the last line.

Edited to add:

While watching the clip from A Serious Man, I noticed that while he’s writing on the board at about 0:15, he writes that delta-p is equal to the square root of <p>^2-<p>^2, which is of course zero… Later, at 0:44, you can see over his shoulder that the expression has been corrected to <p^2>-<p>^2! It’s got to be really hard to get all that stuff down without having much of a sense for its meaning.

  1. A Beautiful Mind
  2. Contact
  3. The Day the Earth Stood Still (original 1951 version)

Do you feel lucky, punk?

Tom Hanks in Castaway comes to mind where he’s doing rough calculations on a rock to determine where he’s stranded.

this is the best choice for this entire 3x3, but that’s just one guy’s opinion

This one’s great, but not from a movie.


Thank you Chuck. I needed that this morning.


By weird chance, that’s the only episode of Silicon Valley I have watched. I thought it was pretty great though, I need to catch the others.

Anyway, I only really have one that has stuck with me since I saw the movie - in Goldeneye, James Bond is given a pen that contains an explosive that is armed by clicking it three times (as demonstrated here). Later in the movie, Nightcrawler takes his pen and keeps double clicking it, then flipping it about his fingers and double clicking repeatedly. I love the bit where James is watching this happen and doing the mental arithmetic to figure out when the bomb is armed before he swats it out of his hand, blowing up the place.


Yes you do. It’s a show that is definitely worth watching.


This. Seriously, how can no one on the show pick Clue!?

“Belloq’s staff is too long; they’re digging in the wrong place!”

Oooo that’s such a good one.

In my 3x3 entry I wrote that I disagreed with the character in Pi who says, “Everything is math,” and Tom backed me up by mentioning poetry. That made me want to share these two pages from a book I’m writing:

Tom’s next example was prose, which makes me wonder if the concept of meter in poetry, studied by Hemachandra in the example I describe above, snuck into Tom’s mind, prompting him to pull back a bit to prose so that meter is no longer so important.

So basically I’m bragging that I am writing a book. Thoughts?

That I knew I was standing on shaky ground mentioning poetry! And that painting isn’t math! Good thing I didn’t say music.

Also, how does a dude named Pisano get a convoluted nickname like Fibonacci?


It’s a mean nickname. :(