Who else has an Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number?

A little while ago, I did some sleuthing to find out the Erdős number of Brian May, astrophysicist and guitarist from Queen. My travels led me to Timeblimp, who threw together three measures of professional collaboration to make a rather fun parlour game. Assuming that the people in your parlour are three kinds of nerds and enjoy long and complicated internet scavenger hunts. Which I am and I do.

The game is to find a well-known person who has published academically, released a song, and been involved in a movie or TV show. Then, you play three versions of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: find a series of movies to connect them to prolific actor Kevin Bacon, a series of coauthored papers to connect them to the eccentric mathematician Paul Erdős, and a series of musical collaborations to get to Black Sabbath. Add up all the links and you get the Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number.

To even have an Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number puts you in quite an exclusive club. Only four people — Richard Feynman, Natalie Portman, Stephen Hawking, and the aforementioned Brian May — are known to be on the list. Until now. In this post, I’m going to put in the legwork to add two of them to the list of People at the Center of the Universe.

New Member: Brian Cox, EBS #13

Sean from Timeblimp floated the possibility of rock star/particle physicist Brian Cox having a well-defined Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number, but to my knowledge nobody has actually worked out what it is. So here goes.

It’s easy to find Brian Cox’s Bacon and Sabbath numbers (they’re both three) but his Erdős number is somewhat harder. I managed to find a path of length seven using only papers with three coauthors or fewer, but Cox has worked in gigantic collaborations like ATLAS. It may be possible to get a shorter path through one of the papers he shares with thousands of coauthors.

Erdős number 7

Brian Cox
Hard colour singlet exchange at the Tevatron
Leif Lönnblad
Small-x dipole evolution beyond the large-Nc limit
Gösta Gustafson
The action-angle variables for the massless relativistic string in 1+1 dimensions
Bo Söderberg
Scaling laws for mode lockings in circle maps
Boris Shraiman
Scaling theory for noisy period-doubling transitions to chaos
C. Eugene Wayne
The Euler-Bernoulli beam equation with boundary energy dissipation
Steven George Krantz
Intersection graphs for families of balls in Rn
Paul Erdős

Bacon number 3

Brian Cox
Stargazing Live
Jonathan Ross
John Hurt
Jayne Mansfield’s Car
Kevin Bacon

Sabbath number 3

Brian Cox
Darren Wharton
Thin Lizzy
Tomy Aldridge
Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne

New Member: Tom Lehrer, EBS #9

Tom Lehrer is a mathematician-turned-musical-satirist; you might have heard his song listing the chemical elements. Starfish13 on the QI forums suggested Lehrer as a candidate: he’s got an an Erdős number of four according to MathSciNet and a Bacon number of two according to the Oracle.

The only missing link is the connection to Black Sabbath. I managed to find quite a short path via the Muppets.

Erdős number 4

Tom Lehrer
The distribution of the number of locally maximal elements in a random sample
WF Penney
The number of components in random linear graphs
John Riordan
The solution of a certain recurrence
Ronald Graham
On sums of Fibonnaci numbers
Paul Erdős

Bacon number 7

Tom Lehrer
The Frost Report
John Cleese
The Big Picture
Kevin Bacon

Sabbath number 3

Tom Lehrer
“Silent E” from The Electric Company
Joe Raposo (producer/lyricist)
“The First Time it Happens” from The Great Muppet Caper
Frank Oz as Miss Piggy
“Born to be Wild” from Kermit Unpigged
Ozzy Osbourne

If you allow for Joe Raposo’s non-performing credits, this gives Tom Lehrer the lowest-known Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number of 9 — making him tied with Stephen Hawking for Person Closest to the Center of the Universe!


After this post went semi-viral in 2012, I established an Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath website to compile the dozens of responses into a catalog of people with academic, dramatic, and musical credentials. The website was closed in 2018 after the EBS project had run its course, but the source code remains available on GitHub.