The Tricky Intricacies of an Adult Math Club
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Hollywood is full of exclusive clubs protected by velvet ropes and bouncers. Those clubs are frequented by the hot, young actors and the next `big thing' musicians. There's another kind of Hollywood club frequented by TV writers. Recently commentator Lori Gottlieb tried to join one. It was a math club, where Hollywood script writers meet monthly to do math problems.
To me, math club sounded like fun. I was a mathlete in high school, president of the math team. I taught calculus in college. I mean, how many Hollywood types still knew the quadratic formula? I figured the math club would be happy to have a fellow nerd join their ranks. That was my first mistake. This group's members weren't geeks. They were geek chic. It was as if the Banana Republic catalog decided to do a photo shoot with stylish writers wearing matching rectangular, black-framed glasses.
The meeting was held at the elegant home of a former "Simpsons" writer. And the topic was, not coincidentally, math references in "The Simpsons." Lightweight, I thought, but, hey, we were just a bunch of Hollywood writers. Clips of Homer and company played on a big-screen TV. Then a local math professor asked us questions using words like dodecahedron and Euclidean algorithms. Oddly, everyone started taking notes. Soon people were eagerly raising their hands and offering to share their calculations. In school, I used to be considered the hard-core math chick, but here I seem to be a mere dilettante with a garden-variety Texas Instruments 36X pocket calculator. When a writer on the show "Mad TV" explained that the left side of the equation would always be positive--and, besides, the right side was a prime number--everyone nodded as if it was totally obvious. Whatever.
Next, the professor started talking about the irrationality of pi, but all I could think about was the irrationality of my coming here. When he asked what would happen to the sum of the squares of the sides of a triangle in relation to the hypotenuse if you placed it on a globe and then moved the triangle closer to the equator, I realized I was out of my league. Also, I'd probably crash an airplane. Next, we watched a clip of Homer Simpson getting stuck in the third dimension, and the group laughed. But when the professor said something about Fermat's theorem and I yelled out the wrong answer, they laughed at me. I knew I wouldn't be invited back to math club.
Driving home I thought about how, as a kid, I joined clubs to have fun. Sure, Hollywood's math club might be prestigious, but did I even want to be a member? Suddenly my math skills came back to me. Exclusivity plus humiliation times competition to the power of infinity, all divided by my self-esteem does not equal fun. It just makes me feel like a big, fat zero.
NORRIS: Lori Gottlieb lives in Los Angeles.