Saturday, October 3, 2015
‘The Big Bang Theory’ Has Hidden Jokes Down to a Science
By Jo Craven McGinty
“The Big Bang Theory,” the CBS sitcom about a pair of socially awkward physicists from the California Institute of Technology, their egghead friends, and the one normal person they socialize with, has serious geek cred.
But what casual viewers may not realize is the lengths to which producers have gone to ensure that the whiteboard equations and physics jokes that make up the witty banter between nerdy roommates Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter are scientifically accurate.
A lot of the humor is over the heads of the general audience. But there are jokes inside of jokes, and for those who recognize the science, they’re hilarious. The show takes this stuff so seriously that it employs a UCLA physics professor to make sure it gets it right.
Case in point: In a 2009 episode, “The Jiminy Conjecture,” Sheldon and Howard heard a chirp and then argued over which variety of cricket made the sound.
On the whiteboard in the background is Dolbear’s law, which states the relationship between the air temperature and the rate at which crickets chirp.
“I went to a Dolbear presentation at Tufts, and they talked about this, in like 1989,” says one high-profile fan of the show, Seamus Blackley, one of the creators of Microsoft’s original Xbox game console. “I remembered it!”
“Once I realized what was going on, it was awesome,” added Mr. Blackley, who is also trained in physics. “It’s the No. 1 show, and it has actual physics in it.”
Sometimes, the whiteboard equations relate to the characters’ conversations. Other times, they simply depict interesting problems that would captivate real physicists. And occasionally, there is an inside joke—one based on serious numbers and not phony equations.
To kick off the new season, which started Sept. 21, Dr. Saltzberg shared some of his past whiteboard humor with The Numbers and hinted at a couple of things viewers can look for this season.
For those who haven’t seen the show, here’s the premise: Sheldon and Leonard are a pair of brilliant physicists who work at Caltech along with their friends, aerospace engineer Howard Wolowitz and astrophysicist Raj Koothrappali. The women in the show—especially Leonard’s love interest, Penny—provide the social skills and common sense the men lack.
Last year, in episode 10, Leonard, Raj and Howard were sent to catalog the work of a deceased colleague only to find out that it was all outdated or disproved.
“There had to be stuff on a chalkboard that was appropriate for an old professor,” Dr. Saltzberg said. “There is a piece of physics that more senior faculty work on. It’s no longer fashionable. If somebody knew that, they’d get a chuckle.”
The old professor’s chalkboard—itself a joke—is never mentioned, but the equation on it relates to an outdated particle physics concept called the Pomeron.
Read the rest here.
at 1:31:00 PM