Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bill at the Barbican

At this afternoon's performance of A Disappearing Number, a play about Mathematics, creativity, infinity, mysticism, mortality and everything you can think about on those lines. I liked it, the stagecraft was excellent, the cast was good, the plot was contrived at times but overall worked for me. The main characters are Ramanujan, Hardy, a current day Math professor, a string theorist and a hedge fund guy, so let me see if I can get Bill to write something about the play.

So anyway, we are at this play, the theatre is almost full. Numbers thrown around everywhere. The opening scene, probably the best, starts with the professor writing numbers on the whiteboard and explaining that its integral to the evening's performance. Yes, yes, Riemann zeta, -1/12, 1+1/2+1/4+1/8... have all made their appearance already. Three minutes into it and Bill whispers:

"Yes, this is so cool"

"The numbers?"

"No. The Zeta"

"What?"

"She gets the Zeta right. No one draws a perfect Zeta. Its not exactly an easy letter to write"

"If you say so. Shut up now"

Halfway into the play. By now, numbers are everywhere. Black board, screen, conversations, voice overs that junta's stopped paying attention to the numbers and are trying to concentrate on the play. Voice over of Ramanujan. He is on the ship from Madras to London and is talking about his journey. It goes something like this:

"We leave Madras which is at 13 degree latitude, 13 is a prime number and then we turn to XXX whose latitude is 7 which is also a prime number....(this goes on for sometime and finally)...into the English Channel and we reach London, latitude is 51 which is also a prime number"

This time, Bill's voice is loud and clear.

"No, its not"

Some 56 pairs of eyes turn towards us. Obviously everyone wants to see the man who dares to contradict Ramanujan (well, the one in the play). An uncomfortable 5 seconds and I am about to burst into laughter when Bill goes:

"Well, its still not prime. 3. Try 3"

9 comments:

Cheshire Cat said...

I knew it. That's the reason why I can never be a successful mathematician - my terrible handwriting!

"Some 56 pairs of eyes turn towards us"

It must have been 65 (which is also a prime number...)

That minor inaccuracy apart, this was a corker.

Anoop said...

Alas, I had the same reaction as Bill just before I came to Bill's "No it's not" line.

Fantastic post!

Veena said...

Cat: I was actually thinking of 63 (which is also..) but figured it might be an overkill.

Anoop: Must say that when Bill said that it reminded me of you. Bill has his moments and all but this one was classic Anoop. Glad to see he's learning :)

Tabula Rasa said...

i too had a similar moment when i saw the 51. overall the story reminded me of a corker from school days - if / when we meet i promise to narrate it for you.

Veena said...

TR: Of course you must narrate it for me. I collect such corkers. What else to do? Its all written in my fate. I am meant to be surrounded by geek junta who tell me such stories. Online and offline.

Tabula Rasa said...

the sweet thing is that this is the ultimate non-geek story.

Feanor said...

Ha, good one. About twenty years ago I went to a P.C.Sorcar magic show and one of his tricks was to solve mathematical equations written by audience members on a blackboard while he himself was blindfolded. People wrote the usual "2 + 2 = " and similar trivia, all of which he solved with elan. "Come on, people", he said, then."Give me something tougher!" Whereupon I'm sorry to say someone did go up and write exp(i*pi) = ? and he wrote -1 with a flourish.

Was I thrilled? You bet your socks. I'm such a nerd...

Thripura said...

glad the bong-bedding is going well:).

Ludwig said...

hmm. then Bill (and other geeks like us) should watch "Copenhagen" if they haven't seen it.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/cinema/features/copenhagen.shtml
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copenhagen_(play)
http://www.pbs.org/hollywoodpresents/copenhagen/index.html