By Barak Malkin
The first season of Stranger Things had us all pulled into its UpsideDown world and we counted how many Eggo waffle breakfasts until they would fill in the blanks of our unanswered questions. Did they defeat the demogorgon? Where is Eleven? Will the group ever finish their game of D&D? I found myself pulled in and watched the entirety of season two and hooked once again, partly due to a certain new character who added a lot of math, technology, and problem solving to the ever-doomed town of Hawkins, Indiana.
Before you read any further, this is your SPOILER ALERT! Do not read any further if you have not yet seen the second season of Stranger Things and don’t want to learn some of its secrets.
Like me, you probably noticed the lack of Dungeons and Dragons game play in season two, but I did enjoy the arcade addition in the start of the season. (Anyone else notice the video game references to DigDug and Centipede and how they foreshadowed latter parts of the season?) I also loved one of the new members to the group, Bob aka Bob the Brain aka Bob Newby: Superhero. He played the same brainteasers I played as a kid, enjoys problem solving, knew the ins and outs of operating a JVC video camera, and like me, probably would have attended 6 Points Sci-Tech as a kid if it existed then.
Did you also notice all of the math, science, and computer programming that went into saving the group this season? Bob helped with some of them and I’m going to do a quick dive into bits of the STEM from Season 2 that made me pause and smile when it happened.
“It’s hard, the ratio isn’t exactly one to one.” “-Bob Newby, Season 2, Chapter 5: DigDug
When Bob was calculating distance to solve the crayon made tunnel map for X (Goonies reference anyone?), this quote from him made me chuckle. If the map was a 1 to 1 ratio either the map would have literally been the size of their house or it meant the map would have had to be the size of the entire town of Hawkins! Cartography, the study and practice of making maps, allows us to communicate the space, distance, size, or height of an area. Bob was referring to what’s known as the map scale. One unit of measurement on a map, usually marked as one inch or one centimeter, can represent 100,000 of the same unit on the ground. (This would be a 1:100,000 scaled map, or approximately 1 inch to every 1.5 miles on the ground.) Now, it is possible that Bob is also referring to how the measurements he’s asking are not matching the different unit measurements on the map. (“I’m 3.6 inches, what do you got?… What about Tippecanoe to Danford Creek?… How about Danford to Jordan?”) We should give Bob some credit here, because if that was his problem, he was working off of the poor cartography drawings of Will the Wise and a two-dimensional map lain across a three-dimensional space. When I first heard this line, I laughed because I often hear mathematics inserted in pop culture and just assumed the writers were trying to sound smart. Then again, Bob is smart.
“Shall I teach you French while I’m at it, Jim? How about a little German? How about you, Doc? You speak BASIC? Okay, I got this.” -Bob Newby, Season 2, Chapter Eight: The Mind Flayer
In this Jurassic Park reference filled episode, the power went out and the only way to be safe was to venture out, sneak past the many monsters, switch the breakers on, and then restart the building’s safety protocols using their state-of-the-art computer program. Luckily, Bob, knew the programming language known as BASIC. For those of you who have always been curious about early computer programs, BASIC is actually an acronym that stands for Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. It was developed in 1963 by Dartmouth Mathematicians, John Kemeny and Tom Kurtzas, as a teaching tool for undergraduates to be a stepping stone before learning more powerful computer languages and, until very recently, was the most widely known computer language among developers. One of the co-creators, John Kemeny, was a Hungarian Jew. He and his family fled Hungary in 1940 to escape the Nazis and he immigrated to North America where he ultimately became a U.S. citizen in 1945. So, we can’t only thank Bob for his bravery, but if it wasn’t for this Jewish-Hungarian American Mathematician, who knows if the gate to the UpsideDown would ever have been closed.
And while that episode may have been the end for Bob, a rewatch of the season will show you that there is a lot more math, science, video game, movie, and problem-solving tidbits throughout the season. Can you help us answer some of them?
- How similar is the scientific evolution of a demogorgon to a pollywog?
- How hot did Will’s temperature have to get to expel the Mind Flayer?
- How many of the arcade games seen were developed or created by Jews?
- What’s the difference between a VHS and Bob’s VHS-C that uses a RF-P1U coaxial cable?
If you’re interested in learning more about earth sciences, computer programming, or looking for some cool people to play Dungeons & Dragons with, don’t forget to register for a summer at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy. Until then, we will have to hope that Season 3 will answer some more of our looming questions: What mid-1980’s movies will they reference in season 3? Why do the demo-dogs like nougat so much? And how many other historical Jews are crucial to surviving the UpsideDown?