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Would You Like Math With That?

Last week, my friend Jon forwarded me this article posted on CNN’s Eatocracy blog. In it, writer Laurie Segall describes the number of possible burger combinations at a restaurant in New York City called 4food. Using some elementary combinatorics and the brain power of her statistician husband, together they calculated that the number of possible burgers one could order at 4food is 1,598,238,720. This is assuming that one follows the rules of the restaurant; if you want the option of including all 12 condiments on your burger, rather than sticking to the suggested limit of 0-3, and similarly for the cheese options, the number of combinations jumps to 96,639,764,160 (roughly a 60-fold increase).

This reminded me of a similar calculation I had been meaning to do for the chain of hamburger restaurants called The Counter. Founded in Los Angeles in 2003, The Counter has since branched out across the country, . . . → Read More: Would You Like Math With That?

A Beautiful Mind

When I first started this blog, there were a handful of movies that seemed natural to discuss. Good Will Hunting was my first foray into this group, and was followed by Pi, and later Stand and Deliver. While I have discussed other movies in between, these three are in a class of their own due to the fact that they revolve so centrally around mathematics. There are a couple of notable exceptions on this list, a regrettable fact which I am in the process of correcting. Case in point: today I’d like to take a look at A Beautiful Mind.

More successful than any of the three previous films I listed (from a box office standpoint, mind you, not necessarily a mathematical one), Ron Howard’s 2001 biopic of mathematician John Nash won four Academy Awards, including the coveted Best Picture and Best Directing trophies. I saw the film . . . → Read More: A Beautiful Mind

Stand Up to Questionable Odds

If you went to the movies in Los Angeles this summer, you may have seen the following ad from Stand Up to Cancer, a charitable program whose telethon aired last Friday night. A clear homage to MasterCard‘s long-running Priceless campaign, this ad swaps out prices for odds, ending with the sobering fact that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed with some type of cancer in their lifetime.

Presumably, those cancer odds are taken from The American Cancer society, which has the relevant stats posted here. When it comes to some of the other claims in the ad, though, I couldn’t help but be skeptical.

Take the bowling claim, for instance. This ad would have you believe that your odds of bowling a perfect game are 1 in 11,500. This seems quite high, even when I . . . → Read More: Stand Up to Questionable Odds


Late last month, Slate ran an interesting article analyzing the performance of 3D movies over the past six years. Titled “Is 3-D Dead in the Water?“, the article investigated the success of a 3D film by looking at several films released in 3D and graphing the ratio of their opening weekend revenue from 3D screenings to their opening weekend revenue from 2D screenings. There’s a lot of good stuff in the article leading up to this, but the main point is given by the following graph:

Image courtesy of Slate – click the link above to see the original article.

This graph tells you, for example, that during opening weekend for The Polar Express in 2004, the screens showing the film in 3D made nearly 7 times as much money as the screens showing the film in 2D. As you can see, the drop from this film . . . → Read More: 3Dead?

Scott Pilgrim Vs. Gravity

More than three weeks after its opening, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World appears to be limping towards the end of its theatrical run. For whatever reason (some blame marketing, others blame Michael Cera exhaustion, for others the fault lies with a crowded weekend of opening releases) this action comedy with a video game aesthetic and a heart of platinum has failed to find an audience. Critical response has been very positive, and everyone I know who’s seen the film has enjoyed it, so it’s unfortunate that this level of support hasn’t translated into higher revenues.

While I’m sure many people have their own explanations for why this film didn’t resonate with a larger crowd, I would like to posit my own: that our culture’s math anxiety runs so deep, we instinctively run when there’s even a hint of mathematics afoot. For if you . . . → Read More: Scott Pilgrim Vs. Gravity