03/10/2006 - 12:00am

Andrew Black, math researcher for NUMB3RS, shares a behind-the scenes look at production of the show and how he helps to keep math center stage throughout the episodes' plot twists and turns.

Question: Where do you get your story ideas for NUMB3RS and where does the math come in?

Answer: Usually a writer starts off with a strong FBI crime concept and then figures out how to implement up to three math twists throughout the story. That's where I come in, to brainstorm with the writer. My assistant Matt and I put out what we call weekly "Math Tidbits" - these are usually 3-5 interesting math applications. For example, we summarized Classification and Regression Trees (C&RT), which is an interesting way to sort through and sift out meaningful/meaningless data. Sure enough, one of our writers seized on this and will make it the "Hero Math" in his episode.

The math itself comes from several places. First are books-textbooks and popular scientific non-fiction. Two examples include The Tipping Point by Gladwell, which helped inspire the episode "Sniper Zero," and The Music of the Primes by du Sautoy, which helped inspire the episode "Prime Suspect." We also rely heavily on arxiv.org, which provides us with a trove of white papers--many of the equations seen on the boards are inspired from here. Finally, I have five core consultants that help us out and watchdog the math - Dr. Gary Lorden (who does all the heavy lifting by adjusting the equations, making sure they match what's going on in the story), Wolfram Research, Dr. Jordan Ellenberg, Dr. Alice Silverberg and Dr. Mark Bridger.