I really ought to devote a lot of space to NUMB3RS, one of my favorite guilty pleasures. But I’ll just write about the last two episodes of its third season here. Both episodes referenced algorithms and models commonly used by OR folks.
In episode “Money for Nothing,” Charlie uses Dijkstra’s algorithm (the same algorithm used by all those map web sites to find the shortest path from A to B). In the episode, Charlie and Don are looking to recover $50 million dollars in medical relief, and they discuss social justice issues regarding defaulted loans in third world countries. It wasn’t the first time NUMB3RS tackled social justice issues, which is amazing for a crime show, and I applaud the procuders for challenging its viewers to think critically about social issues without preaching or being overtly political.
In the season finale, “The Janus Threat,” Charlie and Don work with a crypotographer to uncover government secrets. Although the episode largely dealt with cryptology, which isn’t OR per se, it touched on many issues of combinatorics. In particular, Charlie is asked about the wheat the the chessboard problem, and he referenced the Knapsack Problem, a combinatorial problem close to my heart.