Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Moving Pi-ctures

My TV celebrates without me.
Today, as I'm sure you're aware, is Pi Day - a day for the festive consumption of pies and quiet self-reflection.  In the spirit of the holiday, I'd like to present a point for discussion:

Everyone has a great talent for at least one thing.

That this is true for at least some people is seen through even a cursory glance at a history book:  George Washington was really good at leading revolutions, Michelangelo was an outstanding ceiling painter [1], and Batman was the best at solving complex riddles (especially in English, pero especialmente en espaƱol).

But I'm certain that this holds for everyone.  What's your talent? Mine, as those of you who read this blog should know very well by now, is certainly not doing physics.  Nope, my talent is watching TV.  Seriously guys, I watch TV like a boss [2].  In light of this talent, I thought I would describe a few instances in which I have seen pi represented (for better or for worse) in TV and movies.

Over the last few months, I have been re-watching a lot of the TV show Psych with my good friend and fellow Virtuosi contributor, Matt "TT" Showbiz [3].  For the uninitiated, Psych is a detective show where the main characters (Shawn and Gus) run a (fake) psychic detective agency, which allows them to solve mysteries, engage in various shenanigans, and make an inordinate number of references to Tears for Fears frontman Curt Smith [4].

In one of the episodes, Shawn and Gus enter a room where a long train of digits is written across the top of the wall.  It soon becomes evident that these are the digits of pi and the camera is sure to zoom in on the famous first few digits to reassure us.

But there are hundreds of digits written out and I have very little faith in TV prop people when it comes to background mathematical expressions.  So I decided to check it out.

Pi on the Wall (click to enhance for texture)
Using a neat little pi searcher, I checked to see if (and where) this sequence appeared in pi.  Turns out it's legit and (almost!) correct.  The first 105 digits of pi (counting after the three) are:
3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286208998628034825342117067982148
where I have underlined the 99th, 100th, and 101st digits.  Looking back at the writing on the wall, we see that the 100th digit has been duplicated.


Very Almost Pi
So close!  Oh well, nobody is perfect.  Even though there is an error here, I very much appreciate that whoever was doing the set design decided to use the actual digits of pi.  All too often I see nonsensical equations in the background of TV shows and movies when it would take exactly the same amount of work to put real equations there.  So congratulations to you, O nameless prop-making intern!, for giving an accurate (well, to a part in 10^100) value of pi.


Neat, so are there any other TV shows or movies that have pi in them?  Well, there's Pi.  Pi is film by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, etc) about a mathematician looking for patterns in the stock market.  It's a pretty good movie with a really cool soundtrack by Clint Mansell.  It also appears to display the digits of pi in the opening credits.  But does it?  To the Youtube-mobile!

You can watch the opening credits here if you like and here is a still image of the relevant section.

Pi?
Looks pretty cool, huh?  But once we get past the slick aesthetics, we see that something doesn't seem right.  This number they are showing appears at first glance to be our good friend pi, but after the 8th digit the cover is blown and we see that this is actually some impostor number!  


More like Darren Aron-wrong-sky.
Now, I fully understand that this has no bearing whatsoever on the film and, in the grand scheme of things, is not a Big Deal.  But it would have been just as easy to put the real digits of pi here instead of just random filler.

The only way that this could possibly be better than the real deal would be if it is actually a secret code.  I have not yet ruled this out, as the movie is entirely about looking for meaning in seemingly random numbers.  Unfortunately, the difficulty in transcribing the numbers from the screen greatly outweighs the very small chance that this isn't just gibberish.  Four hundred Quatloos to anyone who can tell me if this is a code or not!


[1] And an above average Ninja Turtle to boot. [back]

[2] Yes, I am putting my TV watching skills on par with the talents of George Washington.  In fact, the stoic way in which I persevered through the entirety of The Sarah Connor Chronicles in under two weeks was described by historian David McCullough as "Washingtonian."  These are simply facts. [back]

[3] The extra "T" is for extra talent. [back]

[4] A duo can absolutely have a frontman.  For evidence, feel free to ask the not-George-Michael-guy from Wham! or the not-Paul-Simon-guy from Simon & Garfunkel. [back]


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