Math Games

The NUMB3RS TV show

Ed Pegg Jr., January 21, 2005

A dedicated FBI agent, Don Eppes couldn't be more different from his younger brother, Charlie Eppes, a brilliant mathematician who yearns to impress his older brother. The two brothers take on the most confounding criminal cases from very different perspectives. As a seasoned investigator, Don deals in hard facts and evidence whereas Charlie, a math professor at a California university, functions in a world of mathematical probability and equations.

Don Eppes
Actor: Rob Morrow
- The Guru - Michael McKean - 1941 - Christopher Lee
Charlie Eppes
Actor: David Krumholtz
- Scorched - John Cleese - Magic Christian - Christopher Lee

"A California University"
Looks suspiciously like CalTech
Christopher Lee connection unknown

Don's boss at the Bureau, Walt Merrick, is skeptical of the alliance between the brothers. Don's partner Special Agent Terry Lake and fellow agent David Sinclair are supportive but concerned that Charlie's careful analysis will impede their fast-paced search for criminals.

Walt Merrick
Actor: Anthony Heald
- Red Dragon - Frankie Faison - The Stupids - Christopher Lee
Terry Lake
Actress: Sabrina Lloyd
- On Edge - John Glover - Gremlins 2 - Christopher Lee

David Sinclair
Actor: Alimi Ballard
- Men of Honor - Scott Kraft - The Stupids - Christopher Lee

Their father, Alan Eppes, is happy to see his sons working together even though he doesn't understand mathematics well. The only person who believes their innovative approach makes sense is Charlie's physicist friend, Larry Fleinhardt, as he understands that math is the language of human nature and can be used to solve some of life's biggest mysteries. Assisting Charlie is one of his students, Amita Ramanujan.

Alan Eppes
Actor: Judd Hirsch
- Man on the Moon - Sydney Lassick - 1941 - Christopher Lee
Larry Fleinhardt
Actor: Peter MacNicol
- Recess - Robert Stack - 1941 - Christopher Lee

Amita Ramanujan
Actress: Navi Rawat
- Thoughtcrimes - Peter Horton - Serial - Christopher Lee

So says the promo material CBS sent to me. The fact that all of the actors have a movie distance of 2 from Christopher Lee -- the Center of the Hollywood Universe -- is just an application of a Small World Network, using Star Links. When I started, I was thinking that it would be cool if all 8 actors had a distance of exactly 2 from Christopher Lee, so I checked it, even though I knew there was only about a (251667/683744)^8 ~ 0.000336 chance that it would work. Happily, it did work. Perhaps it was just a coincidence.

The show starts out with a crime scene. Eventually, Don Eppes goes to his dad's house for a quick change, and his brother becomes interested -- "13 crime scenes spread over a contained region. You're analyzing the significance of the locations?"

Opening numbers
First crime scene

The brothers meet

From there, several very nice explanations of mathematics follow. There is a scene at a board that surprised me -- actor Krumholtz had written enough that as he moved his hand, a noticeable cloud of chalk followed. Equations are used well and believably.

A water sprinkler


Perhaps most importantly, I liked the show. The characters, writing, and acting were all great. Perhaps most unusual is that CBS has a commitment to getting the mathematics right. After they finished the pilot, the producers sent out hundreds of letters to mathematicians and universities, seeking help in doing justice to the math. I was one of the mathematicians that answered them. CBS sent staff to the 2005 Joint Math Meeting in Atlanta, and tried to make as many contacts as they could. This is likely the first TV pilot to premiere at a mathematics conference. CBS treated Eric Weisstein and Michael Trott to dinner, and discussed a lot of math.

A second premiere occurred at CalTech. Jonathan Vos Post attended, and had the following comment: "Do see next Sunday evening, after the AFC Championship, the premier episode of NUMB3RS on CBS, shot at Caltech, with Math advisor being Gary Lorde, Executive Officer of Mathematics at Caltech. I went to a screening. It's the greatest TV series ever about using math to fight crime... " Other reviews can be found at Zap2it., sfgate, Reuters, Houston Chronicle, New York Post, USA Today, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, New York Daily News, MSNBC, Geomblog, and The following is the rumored list of episode titles

I greatly look forward to seeing more episodes.

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Comments are welcome. Please send comments to Ed Pegg Jr. at

Ed Pegg Jr. is the webmaster for He works at Wolfram Research, Inc. as an associate editor of MathWorld, and as administrator of the Mathematica Information Center.