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This semester I’ve been teaching a large calculus class for students not taking Math(s) as an honours course, and using the blackboard, which leads to pauses of various lengths as I sometimes write on the board without speaking. The advantages & disadvantages can be discussed at some length — read this blog post of Alexandre Borovik for a strong defence of the medium and the accompanying habits of presentation — but this post isn’t about that. Rather, it’s about a tactic I’ve been trying in order to relieve the tedium for students who’ve seen all the basic stuff before, or are picking it up much quicker than others, or just want some distraction during 50 minutes of something they find a chore.

Namely, every now and again I’ll write up a trivia question/puzzle on the board, and leave it for people to look at while I continue with the lecture. (The first in the series was, I think, “Which song connects trigonometry to Harrison Ford?” but of late I’ve dropped any attempt to connect the question to the lecture.)

Today’s effort was thought up off the cuff, on the way to work, and so had a couple of errors. The corrected version is:

What connects: Mia Farrow; Whoopi Goldberg; Juliette Binoche; Gérard Depardieu; Robert Duvall; Roy Scheider; James Cagney? And in terms of this connection, who’s the odd one out?

It strikes me that there might be a connection I haven’t thought of (perhaps related to Oscars or Oscar nominations) so if people have ideas they are welcome to leave them in the comments. Another addition to the list, which would probably have made the question easier but which I forgot to mention in the lecture, is Billy Connolly; so once you’ve guessed the connection, maybe you can think of some other actors who would also belong on the list?

Update 8th October 2010: Rejigged the question slightly for today’s lecture. Thus, the actors are now listed in four pairs with one exception — this removes some of the plausible red herrings, after some additions and changes to the list. Thus:

Mia Farrow and Whoopi Goldberg; Juliette Binoche and Roy Scheider; Tom Hanks and Gérard Depardieu; Greta Scacchi and James Cagney; Dennis Hopper.

I guess that by comparing this list with the previous version one could guess the theme, and then the precise connection. Suggestions from some people after the class were: work for the United Nations; generations of actors. Don’t think either of them work as solutions, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a “cook” for the puzzle.

Upperdate 17th Jan 2012: Partially in response to comments, let me give a hint and expand the puzzle slightly. The hint is that the connections are to do with the titles of films in which these actors have starred, apart from Hopper, where it is one he directed.

It may also help if I expand the list, to now read:

Mia Farrow and Whoopi Goldberg; Juliette Binoche, Jamie Lee Curtis, Laura Dern and Roy Scheider; Tom Hanks, Tim Roth, Charlton Heston and Gérard Depardieu; Greta Scacchi, Julie Delpy, Wesley Snipes and James Cagney

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3 Comments leave one →
1. Gerard permalink
15 January, 2012 6:35 pm

Could you please provide a hint? I have been thinking about your riddle for quite a while and I’m going nowhere. I am sure that it has to do with the link to Alexandre Borovik’s blog post, but what do blackboards have to do with it…

• 17 January, 2012 6:31 pm

I have updated the puzzle with some extra hints. (There is in no particular connection to Borovik’s blog post, so my apologies if that was interpreted as a mysterious hint.)