I have just come out of a talk on presenting science to the public via mainstream media. I became jealous of what other sciences, such as astrophysics, have achieved in these media.
This is tremendously borderline for MO, so feel free to close. But I'd like to solicit ideas for 2-3 minute TV clips about mathematics which could successfully compete with "private lives of celebrities" for the public's attention. Maybe TV producers could then glance through someday, and turn one or more of our fantasy TV clips into real TV clips.
- I'd like us to focus on 2-3 minute pieces.
- No "talking heads". People will change channel rather than watch two people talking. Everything has to be visual.
- The mathematical idea has to play lead role in some sense ("oh the thinks you can think!"), and has to be communicated to some degree. It shouldn't be precise, but it shouldn't be wrong either.
- The scene has to be set, and the viewer's interest must be grabbed- not just some sitting at a desk.
- No "green peas"- nobody "should know". It should be popularization as opposed to education.
- The target audience has to be the general public, as opposed to people predisposed to watching Discover Channel and to reading scientific magazines.
Here's my concept as I was listening to the talk, to start things off:
[A 2-minute presentation on basic knot theory. No words needed- it can (and maybe should) be a music video.]
A poor boy in India sees a street conjurer making various knots by a wrist movement on a rope with a weight at the end [there's an old Indian gentleman in Oakland who can do this]. It fills him with wonder, and he resolves to upgrade the trick by knotting a knot no knotter has knotted- a bodacious knot trick to shock the world.
Sinking into his imagination [effect], you see him throw the rope, which wraps itself in an amazing Bollywood way into something which looks like really complicated (from this MO question). He shows it to the conjurer, who untangles it in a second without touching the ends [maybe cut to a computer animation of this, which would be cleaner]. He tries again and fails again, maybe a few times. Eventually he brings one of Haken's gordian unknots, which is also untangled.
He returns dejected, and then suddenly "inspiration strikes". He throws a superhuman Bollywood knot confidently in front of the conjurer, who, try as he may, cannot untie it (without touching the ends). Overlaying animation, a tricolouring flashes over the knot like a dragon, which moves and changes with the knot as the conjurer struggles with it, never changing. Maybe "Can't get rid of the colours!" flashes on-screen, to complement the visual cue of what is going on. The boy wins.
However, the conjurer unknots it to a trefoil, which is an insufficiently bodacious knot, and the boy tries a final time and produces a better knot, which isn't a trefoil either because it's 5-colorable. Again, this is shown with visual effects, blending animation with live action. With more time one might try more colourings.
The boy laughs, and the conjurer stares at him in wonderment- the finest knotter who ever has knotted! Maybe then it returns to the real world, and the boy walks away.