Oxford mathematicians get inside the mind of Moriarty

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Two Oxford dons have invented secret codes, written lecture notes and created mathematical formulae for the blockbuster film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Professor Alain Goriely and Dr Derek Moulton were originally tasked to design Moriarty’s large blackboard of “intricate, beautiful, yet mathematically exact equations and formulas,” but they went on to write an entire lecture for the nefarious Professor to deliver around Europe.

Professor Goriely pointed out that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, “probably felt that equations didn’t fit easily into his story.”

“However, on the screen they are perfect – powerful, beautiful, and mysterious. They tell us everything we need to know about the Professor. This guy is smart. Sherlock is in trouble and the clues are all on the board.”

“Celestial mechanics was a hot topic by the end of the nineteenth- century and Moriarty could see the benefit of computing ballistic trajectories and collision events for his own Machiavellian plans. Do not be surprised if there are a lot of big guns in the movie. Mathematics has done so much good for mankind, but this was a reminder of what happens when it falls into the wrong hands.”

“But, without revealing too much, by the end it is mathematics itself that defeats Moriarty.”

Both of the dons were on set for the scene in Moriarty’s office. Dr Moulton said they had a brief encounter with Holmes himself: “after filming with the close up lens Downey Jr. came out laughing and asked if we could see his [expletive deleted] sty. We could, but I kept my mouth shut.”

The two mathematicians also invented the code and cipher by which Moriarty communicates with his contacts.

Dr Moulton explained: “the code is based on Moriarty’s fascination with the binomial theorem, the Pascal triangle, and the Fibonacci p-codes. It is elaborate and reliable as only Moriarty could have come up with.” This is consistent with Conan Doyle’s character, who wrote books on the binomial theorem and the dynamics of an asteroid.

Professor Goriely hinted at the possible ballistic applications of Moriarty’s dastardly theorems: “if you could build a missile and throw it out of the atmosphere, it could re-enter with an asteroid-like impact. It would be brought back by gravitational forces.”

Does Dr Moulton feel more villainous now? “It’s funny, I do occasionally find myself thinking about ‘evil’ mathematics.  I’m storing them for the next time Hollywood calls, or if I ever decide to turn to a life of crime…”

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was released on the 16th of December and has grossed $394 million worldwide. It stars Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes, Jude Law as Doctor Watson and Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty.

 

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