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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Red Planet Mars (1952)

5:30 Good Blackboard

ADMIRAL: We don’t even know what language they speak, if any. It’s like working out a system of communication with gollywoks. How the devil to find a point of contact?
ELDEST SON(chewing on a piece of pie): How about Pi(e)?
MOTHER: That’s hardly a way to offer it, Stew, and by the size of that size I doubt that there is anything left.
SON: I mean Pi.
ADMIRAL: What are you talking about?
SON: If we are getting answers, they got to have transmitters (??) as powerful as ours.
ADMIRAL: What are you driving at?
SON: Well, they can’t build anything like that unless they know how to build a wheel. That means a circle.
ADMIRAL: And you can’t make a circle without knowing the ratio of the diameter to the circumference, Pi.
FATHER: I still don’t understand what that has to do with…
ADMIRAL: Your son is ahead of you, Croman. What is Pi?
MOTHER: 3.1416 as far as I remember
FATHER: Roughly.
ADMIRAL: Roughly, exactly. Actually, it’s 3.1415926 and so on, an infinite number of decimals.
FATHER: So what? We broadcast 3.1516 to Mars and what can they answer?
ADMIRAL: Nothing, but they must trying as hard to talk to you as you are straining to talk to them. What we are looking for is an opening. So, you don’t broadcast 3.1416, you broadcast 31415
FATHER: And if they understand, they continue the equation.
FATHER: Where did you get that idea.
SON: Biting into this (bites into the pie).
FATHER: Let’s go over to the lab and try it right now.
They do and, they do get the expected answer