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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Tom and Viv (1994)

A movie about T.S. Elliot and his supposedly crazy wife Vivienne. The famous mathematician and pacifist Bertrand Russel is one of their closest friends.

Bertrand Russel in front of a blackboard.

Tom playing a variation of musical chairs. There are as many chairs as people running around. On one of the chairs a puzzle is placed. Whoever ends up on this chair has to solve the puzzle to stay in the game.

TOM’S COMPETITOR (reads the puzzle on his chair): A lady when asked her age replied that she was 35, not counting Saturdays and Sundays. What was her real age? I think she was 60.
REFEREE: Wrong. Tom may answer. Come on, for the cleverest man in England.
TOM: 49.
REFEREE: Correct, correct. I declare Tom Elliot the cleverest man in England.

To determine whether Viv is insane, two doctors ask her one question each.
DOCTOR1: Rupert takes his friends to the opera. Rupert is sitting next to Charles and on his left, Daphne immediately on Charles’s right, Clarissa sits somewhere to the left of Daphne. Can you put them into their correct order.
VIV: Clarissa is next to Rupert, Rupert is next to Charles, Charles is next to Daphne.
DOCTOR1: Yes, that’s correct.
DOCTOR2: A greasy pole is 10 yards high. A little brown monkey wishes to climb the pole. The monkey climbs 3 yards a day, at night he slips back 2 yards. How many days will it take him to reach the top.
VIV: Seven.
DOCTOR2: Wrong. The answer is eight.