Though they look like scribble-scrabble to the uninitiated, the equations Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz) solves on CBS' FBI crime-drama Numbers are real.
Mathematician Gary Lorden makes sure of it. Lorden, the chair of the math department at the California Institute of Technology, supplies the show's writers with numerical concepts. He also reads the scripts to make sure the terminology — and the way the show uses math to solve crimes — add up.
"[I] write equations whose logic is pretty clear," says Lorden, 63. "So somebody who is technically sophisticated wouldn't cringe if they saw it. But it's a challenge to say stuff that's not misrepresentative from a mathematician's point of view and is still meaningful dramatically. Occasionally, Charlie will explain something in two lines that would take me 10 minutes in a lecture!"
As an accomplished Caltech professor, Lorden ranks high in the world of academia. (His theories on statistical inference blew our minds.) However, Lorden humbly admits: "Unlike Charlie, I don't know everything. He's the whole Caltech faculty rolled into one!"
Charlie's supergenius may be a bit of a stretch, but Lorden insists that the notion of crime busting through calculus isn't far from the mark.
"Mathematicians have for many years been at the heart of, if not crime-fighting, then things that are very closely related to that," says the professor, who has top-level security clearance and has performed classified research on anti-terrorism issues. "The modern-day equivalent of Sherlock Holmes is some Ph.D. mathematician who's using computer databases and mathematical ideas to solve problems."As for Lorden's pupils, they're just stoked that math is finally being portrayed on TV as more chic than geek. The fact that he's a Numbers consultant has made him a campus star. "Students have asked me for my autograph," he says with a laugh. "I'm a sort of local hero." Numbers airs Friday nights at 10 pm/ET on CBS.