Math and the Mouse

Nothing kills a family vacation like waiting in line for an amusement park ride.

The good news: There might be a mathematical solution.

For the “Math and the Mouse” May Experience course, Furman’s math department took 12 students to Disney World’s Epcot to study the park’s waiting lines, ride times and distances between attractions. Their mission: Develop a tour plan to navigate the park in the shortest amount of time possible.

“We wanted to make this an emergent real world experience,” said Dr. Kevin Huston, associate professor of mathematics. “We found the best way to do this was to put students in a park and talk about the typical problems someone might face.  We had them find the problems and apply mathematical solutions.”

Armed with a GPS tracking app on their iPads, the students were divided into five groups and given a little less than three weeks to find the quickest route between 18 attractions. The group that covered the most ground in the shortest amount of time would win the friendly competition.

So what is the quickest path through Epcot?

In a span of six hours, the winning team went from Soarin’ to Maelstorm, two rides in the park, before reaching the finish line 15 minutes before the next team. Check out a map of their winning plan here.

Of course, the assignment wasn’t purely about finding an solution to Epcot’s huge crowds. The project challenged the students to work together in finding a creative solution, and taught them how to collect their own data.

“I wanted the opportunity to see mathematics at work,” Joey Ianneta ’16, (Asheville, N.C.) said. “And let’s be honest: who doesn’t love Disney?”

When they weren’t navigating the park, the students had an opportunity to meet Disney professionals who deal with the park’s mathematical quandaries on a daily basis. From pricing decisions to crowd control, the executives shared how their degrees in mathematics led them to a career at Disney.

“I enjoyed the content from those presentations,” Ianneta said. “But most of all, I enjoyed learning about the unique career and job opportunities available in my future profession.”