Math in New Orleans

Over our spring break last week, I traveled to New Orleans with two of my best friends from college.

I think at least once every day the whole trip I ended up saying, “well, you see, this is math.”

Because they love me, they were (or at least acted) interested instead of annoyed, and humored me in taking pictures and explaining things.

We found this beautiful Holocaust Memorial sculpture on the river walk along the Mississippi. The sculpture can be viewed from 9 different locations around its edge, which offer different perspectives on the Holocaust. I failed to take pictures of all 9 because I was too busy explaining the angles to Cat and Ali, but the 3 shown are the Star of David, a Menorah/rainbow, and a black background with colored squares to represent each of the groups that were persecuted and put to death during the Holocaust. You can look at the other views and their interpretations by the artist here. I loved that they had each of the viewing locations marked on the concrete ellipse around the sculpture, along with a sign that described how it worked.



We always find the most economical way to get around when we travel and the NOLA RTA system was pretty awesome. (5 day unlimited ride pass for their whole public transport network, streetcars and buses, for $15!)

The only thing we struggled with was figuring out when the next bus/streetcar was coming. The app had schedules for each route that you could look up, but it only listed times for the major stops, not every single one. Math teacher me started finding weighted averages between the two major stops we were closest to in order to estimate how long we would have to wait. (This problem became less once we figured out there was a number on the sign for the stop you could text to find out when the next bus would arrive, but a few stops had broken or missing signs so I still felt helpful.)


We went to the National WWII Museum. As far as history goes, it’s not usually my favorite thing to learn more about in my free time (Cat and Ali really wanted to go), but this museum was really well put together. I loved that they gave you a dog tag card at the beginning and you could scan it at various points throughout the exhibits to learn more about a specific soldier. I was very excited that my soldier was one of the first graduates of the Tuskegee Airmen program and pioneered a lot of things for African American soldiers!

I did find these flight maps really interesting though. They had to measure all the wind speeds and angles and chart everything by hand. I spent a lot of time looking at these and figuring out how they would have been created.


I got to attend my first NBA game while we were there, the New Orleans Pelicans vs the Memphis Grizzlies! Cat and I went down to the gift shop after the first quarter and I discovered this mini exhibit about Kepler’s sphere stacking, complete with an example using basketballs! I was nerding out pretty hard over it, and when we got back to our seats, Cat just said to Ali, “Liz found math while we were gone.” Of course I did. It’s everywhere!

Later in the game, the ad banner by the court changed to this image that just read MATHLETES and I…kind of got excited. In fact, I think the exact exchange was:


Friends: “What are you talking about.”


Further investigation has unveiled the Pelicans’ Mathlete’s program and I’m OBSESSED. You go, Pelicans!



I was also very excited to see some more complex metrics on the stats board during the game. I read one of Dean Oliver’s books last year and really enjoyed it, and am generally fascinated with the process of major sports leagues gradually adopting the casual use of these analysis based metrics in their fans and coaching. The Four Factors aren’t super advanced, but to see them integrated into a mainstream enjoyment of a game was cool.

Finally, I loved being able to compare yourself in size to an NBA player at the game. Conclusion: Anthony Davis is a large human and I am a small one. Also, as my students said when I showed them these pictures yesterday, “Dude, a Point Guard is the smallest one and your hands are TINY!” Yup. Pretty much. I also loved that my students remarked that your arm span is supposed to be approximately your height, and we then had a discussion of how Anthony Davis’ arm span is EIGHT AND A HALF INCHES LONGER than his height.


Basically, math is everywhere. New Orleans was a great city, full of color and music and lots of cool things to do. And a lot of math. 🙂