get your physics phreak on

VampjenlucWe certainly hope everyone tuned in for Monday night’s special Halloween episode of The Big Bang Theory, that brand-new sitcom featuring a bunch of physics postdocs who discover a hot young blonde woman has moved in across the hall. (Yes, Gordon, you should be watching, if only for the occasional physics in-jokes.) Because we’ve been excitedly holding this post until the episode aired so as not to spoil the experience for those not lucky enough to have snagged a preview DVD of the episode. Spoilers suck.

The premise of the episode is quite simple: our lovable geek boys are invited to Penny’s Halloween party, and while they are initially reluctant to attend — knowing full well they’ll be out of place among her circle of hard-partying Angeleno pals — they can’t pass up a good costume party. There is no prize for best costume, much to Sheldon’s disappointment. (Sheldon is the tall skinny theoretical physicist with a serious case of Asperger’s.) We can understand his feelings. He totally would have won if we’d been judging.

See, Sheldon showed up as the Doppler Effect. Let’s just say it: Best. Costume. Evah. Fun, too: whenever people would ask what he was supposed to be — "like, a zebra or something?" — he’d respond by making that telltale Doppler shift sound ("nee-yah-WOO-ahmmm!") and wait, in vain, for someone to guess correctly. Needless to say, most of the guests were all Children Who’d Been Left Behind in the public school system, at least in terms of their science education.

Anyway, we totally loved this episode, and it’s inspired us to compile a list of other physics concepts that might make good costumes for the upcoming Halloween holiday. C’mon, it’s way better than dressing up as Brangelina (although we loved them in Mr and Mrs Smith; who doesn’t have the occasional "Who’s your daddy now?" moment?). We haven’t quite figured out how, exactly, one might convey some of these concepts in visual form, but that’s where you all can help. Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments; bonus points for clever obscurity!

* We’ll start by dipping into the classics: try dressing as Schroedinger’s Cat! Cat costumes are fairly easy to come by, and you can carry around a little vial filled with colored liquid with a label ID-ing it as cyanide or something. Granted, it’ll be a bit tricky walking around all night in a constant superposition of states, but imagine how much fun it will be when someone (a.k.a., an "Observer") notices you, asks about your costume (i.e., "makes a measurement"), and you get to demonstrate your collapsing wave function.

* Alternatively, you can take a more classical approach and dress up as Maxwell’s Demon. A snazzy impish costume would do the trick, or your standard Red Devil outfit, and you can emblazon Boltzmann’s equation for entropy across your chest for good measure. Then wander around the party separating all the guests according to how "hot" or "cold" they are to create the telltale temperature difference, from which it is possible to extract useful Work (with a capital "W"). Hall_04

* If you’re looking for something a bit less mainstream, how about dressing up as a Bose-Einstein condensate this Halloween? That’s what happens when a cloud of atoms in a gas get so cold — practically down to Absolute Zero — that they behave like one giant superatom. I’m not entirely sure how this would work; a bit of creativity is required. But it’d be a great idea for a costume once we’ve worked the problem. Any ideas?

* Perhaps you’re feeling more astrophysical. You could try dressing up as a black hole. Black is the default party color for hipsters, plus, you could go around devouring all the hors d’oevres that cross your event horizon with zero guilt because hey — gobbling things up is what black holes do!

* If you’re part of a couple, there’s tons of options. For instance, you and your date can attend the Halloween festivities as a binary star, or, if you prefer to separate and mingle while still remaining, technically, a couple, you can go as a Cooper pair (see last week’s post on the anniversary of BCS theory for more information). If you’re feeling very ambitious, try coming up with a couple’s costume for the classic double-slit experiment. You and your date can dress up as particles of light, and periodically split up whenever you encounter other guests (the "barrier"). Your coordinated outfits should form an interference pattern whenever you recombine on the other side of the room.

* Don’t have a date? You can always dress up as an antiparticle, popping out of your social vacuum at random fluctuating intervals and threatening to annihilate  into a burst of energy every time you encounter an attractive guest made of regular matter — opposites attract, after all. Who knows? Some sassy young regular particle might think mutual annihilation sounds kinda hot, if a bit kinky. It’s certainly far preferable to all those lame pick-up lines one usually encounters at parties.

* Finally, you could get a whole big group of pals together and go as various parts of the Standard Model. Could be risky, though, since you just know everyone will want to be the charmed and strange quarks. (We could make jokes about top and bottom here, but that would just be tasteless. Please resist the temptation yourselves and aspire to a higher brand of humor.)

Feel free to suggest other costume ideas. If you’ve already celebrated Halloween over the weekend, and are looking for at-home activities on the day itself, you can check out this mockumentary on ghosts (h/t: OmniBrain), or use the Cadaver Calculator to figure out how much your dead body is worth (mine is worth $4475). And while you’re surfing around the Internet looking for appropriately scary stuff, make yourself a yummy Brain Hemorrhage cocktail: Pour 1 ounce of peach Schnapps into a shot glass, then slowly add 1 teaspoon of Bailey’s Irish Cream. Top off the whole thing with 2 drops of Grenadine. Mmmm! Tasty, bloody brains! Happy Halloween!

11 thoughts on “get your physics phreak on”

  1. I went to a party this weekend as Dark Matter. Really, you just need to be dressed in all black and armed with the explanation for the other guests that “It’s really okay they didn’t guess it. Nobody really understands dark matter.”

  2. This is what I’m talking about: great physics-themed Halloween costumes (and definitely follow Chad’s link for his idea for a group BEC costume). The only problem with being Dark Matter is that it doesn’t interact much at all with others. Could be a very lonely party.

  3. “We could make jokes about top and bottom here, but that would just be tasteless. Please resist the temptation yourselves and aspire to a higher brand of humor.”
    Yeah, quark jokes just aren’t a good flavor of humor. We need to bring them up to a higher level of taste; I’m not down with this mindless juvenility. You might think such remarks are charming, but honestly they’re just strange.

  4. Phil S. Ioannou

    Inspiration struck !
    Carry a conductor’s baton and wear a hula hoop around your waist and
    you are a SuperConducting Supercollider for the night.
    I Love your blog.

  5. I usually wear Fermat’s Last Costume. (I go in street clothes, and explain that I have the most marvelous costume, but it doesn’t fit.)

  6. A couple at a party over the weekend came as Castor and Pollux. They both dressed in black jumpsuits with little light bulbs arranged meticulously to create the constellation when they stood in the right position. That was pretty awesome.
    If you wanted to combine the Standard Model idea with the general “things interacting” theme, and you wanted a costume that only a physicist would get, and probably even then only after explanation, you could have a three people go as the ZZ-top vertex (Yes, I know it’s not an interaction that actually happens, but it should be). And seeing whether people found it funny once it had been explained might be a good test of whether or not they had passed their Schwarzchild drink.

  7. I dressed as an irrational number. Essentially I just wore mismatched clothes and wore a nametag that said, “Hello, my name is RT2 (in symbol form)”.

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