Back in 2011 I was asked to be a technical consultant on an episode of the hit comedy series, The Big Bang Theory (TBBT). That episode was Season 4, Episode 12: The Bus Pants Utilization and at that time I was a Senior iOS Engineer at eHarmony. While the main characters in TBBT are theoretical physicists and engineers, in this particular episode they decide to write their own iPhone app. One of the things that makes The Big Bang Theory unique is that the show’s creators insist that the science discussed in the series be plausible (unless the characters are actually discussing science fiction, which they do a lot.) Whiteboards are often in the scene containing the geniuses’ mad, yet completely accurate scribblings. In this case, they needed the scribblings of an iPhone app developer, and through good fortune that turned out to be me.
Prof. David Saltzberg is the regular science consultant for TBBT, and publishes a blog discussing the science mentioned in the series: The Big Blog Theory. The last time he updated it was November 2013, but this Hollywood Reporter article mentions that he is still involved with the series as of the end of season 12. Here is Prof. Saltzberg’s article about The Bus Pants Utilization, wherein he mentions my contribution.
Below are some of the diagrams I submitted to the show’s producers, along with some screen captures of how they translated to the actual whiteboards on-set. In the story, the characters develop an app that can take a photo of an equation and then solve it. This is a group idea that Sheldon tries to take over, resulting in his ejection from the team. Because of the divergent ideas around the same app concept, I designed the same app twice (once for Leonard’s version, and once for Sheldon’s take on it) including class diagrams and code snippets for both of them.
The script gives project names or code names for the projects, so I added them to the whiteboard designs.
Howard: So right now, this button-press event is just triggering a dummy procedure call—
Sheldon: How about this for the app name? “The Surprisingly Helpful Equation-Linked Differential Optimized Numerator.”
Raj: So it spells SHELDON?
Sheldon: Does it? A happy accident.
Leonard: We’re not doing names now. Howard?
Howard: Like I was saying, right now it’s just a dummy procedure, but eventually, it will drop us into—
Sheldon: All right, fine. If we’re not going to give it a name, can we at least give it a secret code designation?
Sheldon: Well, but hear me out. The atomic bomb was The Manhattan Project. Windows 95 was originally Project Chicago. For our app, I would humbly suggest, “Project Nodlehs.”
Leonard: That’s just “Sheldon” backwards.
Sheldon: Another happy accident.
Later, after Sheldon is kicked off the team:
Sheldon: Greetings, gentlemen. How goes your little project?
Raj: You mean, “Project Lenwoloppali?”
Sheldon: Ah, a combination of all your names. Very clever. I assume “Koothranardowitz” was taken?
Therefore, Leonard’s designs are labeled “Lenwoloppali” while Sheldon’s are labeled “Nodlehs.”
The tag at the end of the episode depicts Sheldon grudgingly working with Penny on her own app concept “Project Shoe” for which I designed another series of mockups. Unfortunately, my favorite board, which was a more developed version of the “Shoe” mockup, did not get a good angle in the last scene.
I was able to attend both the rehearsal and the taping of the episode. Between takes during the taping, an “MC” keeps the audience “warm” by telling jokes, offering trivia, and asking questions of the audience. At the taping, one of my favorite moments came when the MC asked, “What is one of your favorite things about The Big Bang Theory?” A gentleman all the way on the other side of the audience stood up and spoke: “One thing I really love about The Big Bang Theory is that they keep the science as accurate as they can. I write iPhone apps for a living, and those whiteboards for this episode are amazing— they really show what we do!”
Because the design evolves over the course of the episode, I also designed earlier-through-later revisions of the boards. This is an “early” wireframe:
I designed the class inheritance diagram to evolve over the course of the scenes. The different colors were to be drawn in for later scenes:
Three shots of the evolution of the inheritance diagram over the course of the episode:
I intended that Leonard’s wireframe would also evolve as the episode went on, so I provided a “late” wireframe (in both landscape and portrait orientations) that wasn’t ultimately used in the show:
I also designed Leonard’s code board to evolve over the course of the show:
Sheldon’s “Project Nodlehs” had to be a different design for basically the same equation-solving app, so I produced designs for Sheldon’s own take on the wireframe and class inheritance boards:
And as they appeared in the series: (That little board on the right? I have no idea— I didn’t do it.)
At the end of the episode, Sheldon attempts to help Penny make her own shoe shopping app. They only asked for one board for the scene, but ended up adding a second board based on the one I provided.
This was a fun, once-in-a-lifetime little project, and while I didn’t get any screen credit (hey, Prof. Saltzberg doesn’t either) I did earn a few hundred bucks and got some great bragging rights!