The Math in Good Will Hunting is Easy: How Do You Like Them Apples?

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.

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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.…

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Math­e­mat­ics in Movies: Har­vard Prof Curates 150+ Scenes

Cal­cu­lus Life­saver: A Free Online Course from Prince­ton

Math: Free Cours­es


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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.