Perhaps you remember the scene (above) in Gus Van Sant’s 1997 film, Good Will Hunting. MIT professor Gerald Lambeau, winner of the coveted Fields Medal, challenges his graduate students to solve a math problem that he, himself, spent two years trying to crack. That set the bar pretty high. So, imagine everyone’s surprise when Will Hunting, a janitor at MIT played by Matt Damon, wrestles the problem to the ground without breaking a mental sweat.
Well, not quite everyone was surprised, especially not the mathematicians behind the Numberphile video series. Right above James Grime, who resides at the Department of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University, breaks down the famous “Homeomorphically Irreducible Trees of Degree Ten” problem. And, it turns out, it’s a problem mere mortals can solve fairly easily at home.
Numberphile also offers a quick bonus video that tries to answer another tough question: Who was the real Will Hunting? Who was the character modeled after? There are a few prime candidates….