Thursday, February 19, 2009

Movie Mistakes- or are they?

Note the following two movies mistakes. Or are they mistakes?
  1. In The Wizard of Oz when the Scarecrow gets his diploma (instead of a brain) he says the following:
    The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.
    This is incorrect. I suspect my readers spotted this mistake while watching the movie. If you type
    "Wizard of Oz" isosceles
    into google you get over 2500 hits-- far less than I would have thought. (Though if you replace isosceles with pythagorean you get over 8000 hits.) So this error is somewhat known. But is it an error? Possibilities:
    1. The writers and everyone who proofread the script did not catch this. Realize that this is not hard math. Wouldn't someone have noticed it?
    2. One of the points of the movie is that the Scarecrow is already smart. Hence the writers are trying to show that he was smart (though didn't know math) both before and after getting the diploma, so the diploma didn't change anything except his confidence. And when it comes to math, a misplaced confidence.
    3. Recall that the movie is all Dorothy's dream. The writers were making the point that Dorothy didn't know the proper way to state the theorem.
  2. In Miracle on 34th street (1947 version) Kris Kringle, who claims to be Santa Claus, states that he has passed psychological tests, and brags that he knows that
    John Quincy Adams' vice president was Daniel Tompkins.
    But this is incorrect! John Quincy Adams's VP was John Calhoun! (Tompkins was James Monroe's VP.) How well known is this error? If you type
    "Miracle on 34th street" Tompkins
    into google you get over 1000 hits (far more than I would have thought). Is this really an error?
    1. Daniel Tompkins was our 6th VP. John Quincy Adams was our 6th Prez. They just didn't line up (see chart at the end of the answers to my prez quiz). Hence it was an honest mistake on the part of the writers (I find this far more believable than the Scarecrow-math error not being detected.)
    2. The writers were trying to tell us that Kris Kringle wasn't Santa Claus. Or at least put some doubt in our minds. Of course, that would only work if the audience knew their vice presidents. (Easy now with the excellent book Bland Ambition: From Adams to Quayle-- The Cranks, Criminals, Tax Cheats, and Golfers who made it to Vice President but harder in 1947 when the movie was made.
    3. There have been two remakes of the movie (that I know of) but I don't know if they contain the error. If you know, let me know.


  1. For what its worth, these errors do appear on the goofs pages for these movies on IMDB:

    In my opinion, the Oz "error" was probably intentional.

  2. The very fact that the Scarecrow is talking about math shows that he's intelligent. What he says is of course irrelevant.

  3. I basically agree with Anonymous at 12:56pm.

    A very reasonable interpretation, from reading the Oz books, that the math is supposed to be ludicrous and that a diploma doesn't really change anything.

    In later books, Baum had a character called "H. M. Woggle-Bug, T. E.". The "H. M." stands for "highly magnified". The Woggle-Bug entered academia as a nondescript insect viewed under a microscope in a biology class. (In the illustrations by John R. Neill, he looked like some sort of beetle.) After the microscope highly magnified him, he managed to stay in that state. Since he liked higher education so much, he eventually gave himself an academic title, like MBA or PhD, except that it it was a title of his own invention: "T.E., Thoroughly Educated".

  4. There was also a spell in one of the later Oz books that could only be activated if you "counted to seventeen by twos", but I forget how they eventually managed to do that.

  5. Counting to 17 by 2s is easy. Just start at 1. If I asked you to count to 10, where would you start?

  6. Google Books found the quote for me, in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz". The solution they adopted was to start from 1/2, whence they proceeded to 1, 3, 5,... and then 17. This was good enough to make the Wishing Pills work.

  7. I realize it's nearly six years later, but fer cryin' out loud, 1/2 + 2 doesn't equal 1!

  8. I was watching the audio commentary for the Wizard of Oz and apparently the Scarecrow's mistake was intentional on the writers' behalf. It was an joke that he would say something that sounded smart on the surface, but showed that the wizard hadn't actually done anything to improve his intelligence (because he still got the math wrong).

  9. And from the first post I read in 2009 to the latest in 2015 it only took us 6 years to figure out the mistake was intentional!

  10. TL;DR: That's a right triangle you idiot!

  11. The simpsons did it: