ByDavid Latchman, writer at
Dork and science nerd. Follow me on Twitter @sciwriterdave as I explore some real science. Check my blog
David Latchman

Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.

It is no secret, quantum mechanics is difficult to grasp. So much of the behavior and phenomena we encounter, from quantum tunneling to quantum entanglement, runs counter to our everyday experiences. Sure, if you want to learn this stuff you can go do a degree in physics but what if you don't have to? What if you could learn quantum mechanics by playing chess? Interested? I am, and so is Paul Rudd!

The short film, Anyone can Quantum, stars Paul Rudd playing himself along with physicist and sometimes sci-fi actor, Stephen Hawking. Rudd decides that his credentials playing Ant-Man makes him more qualified than hawking to open CalTech's quantum mechanics seminar One Entangled Evening. Thinking Rudd is... well, stupid, Hawking rebuffs the actor's request. On the advice of the film's narrator played by Keanu Reeves, Rudd challenges Hawking to a game of quantum chess.

Ant-Man & Stephen Hawking play Quantum Chess

Quantum Chess is the brain child of Chris Cantwell and he is currently hoping to get this project funded through Kickstarter. Why do something like this? In one of his Kickstarter videos, Chris says

The goal with Quantum Chess is to create a way for people to interact with quantum phenomena so that their brain will develop an intuitive understanding of how these things happen.

This means you do not need to learn quantum mechanics to play Chris' game. Think about it in terms of playing pool. While knowledge of physics may help your game, it is not necessary. Personally, some of the best pool players I know have never taken a physics course. What they do have is an intuitive understanding of how the game works through years of practice and experience.

To get people on board with this project, Chris produced a short film, Anyone Can Quantum, directed by Alex Winter and narrated by Keanu Reeves, premiered at Caltech’s One Entangled Evening on January 26, 2016. It stars Stephen Hawking, a scientist famous for quantum mechanics and black holes, and Paul Rudd, an actor famous for playing Ant-Man, a character that knows nothing about quantum mechanics but has visited the quantum realm.

In the short film, Paul Rudd challenges Stephen Hawking to a game of Quantum Chess and the person who wins will give the opening speech to the One Entangled Evening event. Needless to say, Stephen is very confident about his chances and offers some verbal smackdown.

It's not like Hawking should be worried, and he was even watching cat videos when Rudd challenged him!

I figured this is what he does in his free time.
I figured this is what he does in his free time.

Realizing he is possibly outmatched, Rudd prepares for the game. As you can see, he knows as much quantum mechanics as the character he played in Ant-Man.

I recommend this one.
I recommend this one.
I actually got this one for my niece.
I actually got this one for my niece.

Come to think of it, he does not know chess either.

Playing Quantum Chess

If I had to say one thing about this short film, it's that it is truly funny. Naturally, Rudd is outmatched and everyone knows it. Hawking opens with the famous Légal Trap (it is under "legal trap" in any chess openings book) and everyone expects Rudd to lose.

I expect Neil deGrasse Tyson to be on Hawking's side but the Pope? He's supposed to be impartial. Isn't he?

Don't think that just because Rudd is not a physicist that he is out of the game. Remember, this is not your typical game of chess. You also need to take the laws of quantum mechanics into account, which Rudd does and blocks Hawking's attempt at an easy victory.

The game takes some twists and turns as Rudd's advantage is lost.

Hawking is not afraid to kick a man when he is down. I doubt Brian Fantana can play chess.

Not to be outdone, Rudd realizes the key to winning the game is quantum entanglement. In this case, Rudd's chess pieces can appear in more than one place at the same time. The only way for Hawking to win is to guess. This collapses the quantum states and the chess piece will appear in one position. Will Rudd win? Watch the short to find out.


Would you play Quantum Chess to learn quantum mechanics?


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