To showcase its mathematics software, a firm usually works through idealized examples from its client base. Sometimes, the firm will consider a real-life problem. The firm seldom turns to the silver screen for inspiration—yet that was the hook that drew in a webinar audience on June 19, 2013. Jonny Zivku, Product Manager at Maplesoft, provided an entertaining tour of Maple software (version 17), as applied to math problems encountered in the movies.

Zivku quickly moved from a discussion of the basic math problem (13 X 7 = 28) encountered by Abbott and Costello in the 1941 classic In the Navy to the 1995 movie Diehard with a Vengeance. To avoid being blown up, the hero needs to solve a version of the classic water-jug problem, in which a 3-gallon jug and a 5-gallon jug must be used to measure 4 gallons exactly. “You can make an intuitive app complete with slider and drop-down menus” as you work your way through the problem, advised Zivku.

In the 2000 movie Cast Away, the character portrayed by Tom Hanks estimates the area through loss of radio contact and solves the π X R2 equation. “Within the document interface, Maple can evaluate the expression,” said Zivku, “and hide the programming so that the worksheet stays readable.”

The 1993 movie The Fugitive involves calculation of distance using the rate of travel and the time travelled. “Load in the Units package,” suggested Zivku, “and change everything to base units of feet and seconds” and then output to desired units of miles. If only the Harrison Ford character had it so easy.

The 1994 movie Speed involved a fine example of projectile motion and the range equation. A bus must travel at over 50 mph to avert a bomb, but it gets slowed down by traffic. Can it cross a 50-foot gap, and if so, what is the necessary launch angle? Zivku showed how Maple worked through it in radians and converted to degrees. (See accompanying screen shot from his desktop.) “On the DVD, the director has a fascinating story about the F/X problems for this scene,” said Zivku in an aside. 

The plot of the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting concerns a professor who leaves a problem in algebraic graph theory on the blackboard, and finds it solved by the janitor. Zivku loaded the Graph Theory package in Maple to solve this one. He drew an adjacency matrix and he found the generating function for walks of length k from points I to j.

The webinar was an entertaining look at the easy-to-use interface of Maple software and a good review of how to set up problems, complex or mundane, for solution. ª

The webinar PDF and Maple document (and free viewer) can be found at:

Disclaimer: The author does not hold stock or any interest of a monetary nature in this software.