Unfortunately, the Numb3rs episodes are not as entertaining as they were at the start in 2005, either crime-wise or mathematically. Yet, they still are a way to give the public some sense of mathematics-in-use.
Cheryl Heuton, co-creator of the series with her husband Nick Falacci, is credited with making "math sexy." Consider these excerpts from an interview with Heuton in 2005, just after the first few episodes were aired...
Question: Plane-crash survivors and sex-starved housewives, sure. But crime-fighting mathletes?
Heuton: I'd been reading for years about scientists and mathematici9ans. The way they think--I find it intriguing and amusing and enlightening. Doing another crime show was actually not our goal. But we felt that if we were going to do something as unusual as a show about a mathematician, we'd better couch it in terms that were familiar to a TV audience. And that's how it became a crime show.
Question: Pop Quiz: What's the square root of 91125? Seriously, are you any good at math?
Heuton: No. I have an affinity for geometry, and that's about it. If you gave me a difficult algebra problem, I probably couldn't do it. But the logic of math, the thinking, the philosophy of it, has always fascinated me.
Question: CSI and all of its spinoffs have made forensic science cool. Can Numb3rs do the same for math?
Heuton: That's been a goal from early on. One of the inspirations for this show was Bill Nye the Science Guy. He talks a lot about inspring young people to study math and science. I used to be a journalist; I did a three-hour interview with him once and I never forgot that. I wanted to influence people to think more about math as an everyday language that they can use.
Question: How important is the accuracy of the math on the show--and who makes it right?
Heuton: It's very important to us. Gary Lorden, who is chair of the math department at Caltech, is consulting for us. And we have a staff researcher who works with Gary and other mathematicians...correcting any little error, couching things in more sophisticated terms, adding little details that a mathematioian really would add to a discussion, things like that.
Question: Your hardcore fans must be checking your work?
Heuton: They're all doing screen captures. And with mathematicians watching, they're going to catch anything. We almost had a couple of errors slip in, and David Krumholtz has caught two that got by me and Gary, in lists of prime numbers. One time the number was 33, and another time, embarrassingly enough, it was 9....
Question: The first few episodes were based on real-world problems. Will you ever run out of ways to apply math to crime?
Heuton: They asked me that at Caltech...My answer was "Do you think you're ever goping to run out of problems?" Mathematicians have already started calling in new ideas, some of which are just wild--and great....
Also, given the show's demise and Heuton's reasoning, perhaps the world has run out of math problems? I hope this year is better (season premier is October 3)...and I can start recommending it to the general public (and students) again!
Source: "Math+Crime=Hit," Wired, April 2005, p. 38