Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Interesting Probability on a VERY OLD TV show

I have posted about things I see in TV or Movies that are math or CS related:

Do TV shows overestimate how much a genius can help solve crimes or make really good crystal meth which seems to be blue. YES, see here

Do TV shows get math wrong. YES, see here and about 90% of the episodes of Numb3rs

Closer to home- do TV shows say stupid things about P vs NP. Elementary (one of the two Modern Day Sherlock Holmes shows did) does  see  here

Did Kirk and Spock really defeat a computer by a trick that wouldn't work now. Yes, see Lance's post on this here

Do TV shows use the word Quantum incorrectly? They do but they are not alone as such, see here

Do people writing Futrama get their math right! Yes- see here

Do people writing 24 get their math wrong! Yes- see here

Does the Big Bang Theory mostly get things right? Yes! - see here

There are more (Seinfeld things comedians should learn proofs! Really- see here) but I can make my point just with the ones above.

ALL of the TV shows except Star Trek were from after 2000 (or so).  So, with the exception of Science Fiction, math-refs and sci-refs in TV shows are relatively recent- I had thought.

Which is why I was surprised and delighted to see, an episode of the old western (anti-western? satire of a western?) Maverick, from 1958 (before I was born!), called Rope of Cards a CORRECT and INTERESTING  math reference.Maverick bets that a random 25 cards from a deck of cards can be arranged into five  5-card pat hands (I had to look that up-- hands where you don't want to discard any cards, so  flush, a straight, a full house would qualify. 4 of a kind would be pat if there were no wild cards).  The sucker takes the bet and loses. Maverick later says the odds are high and called the game Maverick Solitaire.And that is now the name of the puzzle- see here. The prob is around 0.98.

I call this a mention of math since it has to do with probability- which may be a stretch. And I doubt the scene would encourage people to go into math. But it might encourage one to learn probability either to sucker others or to not be suckered.

So the question now is- are there other non-science-fiction, refs to math in older TV shows?
I suspect yes - similar to the one above which is gambling and probability. What is the earliest mention of math on a TV show? The oldest that did not involve science fiction or gambling?


  1. This TEDxUCLA talk "The Science Gap: Jorge Cham at TEDxUCLA" is worth watching. [Jorge Cham is the author of PhD Comics]


  2. Shouldn't it be _five_ 5-card pat hands instead of _four_ 5-card pat hands? At least the reference seems to handle things this way.