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Mathematics: Plays, Movies, Fiction, Games...and Crossword Puzzles?

Though mathematics is applied in the real-world, it is also found in the real-world. My meaning: It is sometimes integrated, implied, or intuited into objects or events...but not in an applied sense.

A broad examples is the presence of mathematics in popular culture. Editors Jessica Skyar and Elizabeth Skylar reveal and discuss this presence in their recent text Mathematics in Popular Culture: Essays on Appearances in Film, Fiction, Games, Television, and Other Media (2012). That is a mouthful!

The book has twenty-four essays, separated into three broad sections:

  • Section One examines mathematics as found in literature, television, sport, and games
  • Section Two examines mathematics as found in films, theater, and journalism
  • Section Three focuses on the use of mathematical metaphors in literature, cinema, and occultism
The authors of the essay include mathematicians, scientists, English professors, film theorists, and specialists in cultural or occult phenomena....writing for an audience that extends beyond the community of mathematicians and mathematics teachers.

The essays take readers on a tour is wide-ranging...from the expected examples of the television show NUMB3RS, the movie Proof, the play Arcadia, the science fiction novel Cryptonomican, and the classic text Flatland...to the unexpected examples of the movie Mean Girls, the movie Matrix, the novel War and Peace, the movie Moneyball, the television show Lost, and New York Times crossword puzzles.

The essays go beyond showing surface-level examples of mathematics in popular culture. The examples include significant mathematics being discussed, such as game theory, computer modeling, fair division, gambling, multi-dimensions, and projective geometry.

Though each essay includes reference notes, the overall text has lengthy appendices that list novels, films, plays, and television media that contain mathematical content.

The book is an enjoyable text to browse (even to read)...but it is not a standard mathematics text. My hope: The text will help a broad readership recognize and accept mathematics as playing an important part of popular culture.

The Web Site For This Week complements this text...so check it out as well.