Danica McKellar, Actress, Stuff Model, Math Whiz

Danica McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper in the “Wonder Years,” is featured in a photo shoot in something called Stuff magazine. In her spare time, she proves mathematical theorems.

Between Series, an Actress Became a Superstar (in Math) (NYT July 19)

On her Web site, Danica McKellar, the actress best known as Winnie Cooper on the television series “The Wonder Years,” takes on questions that require more than a moment’s thought to answer. “If it takes Sam six minutes to wash a car by himself,” one fan asked recently, “and it takes Brian eight minutes to wash a car by himself, how long will it take them to wash a car together?” “This is a ‘rates’ problem,” Ms. McKellar wrote in reply. “The key is to think about each of their ‘car washing rates’ and not the ‘time’ it takes them.”

Ms. McKellar, now a semiregular on “The West Wing” playing a White House speechwriter, Elsie Snuffin, is probably the only person on prime-time television who moonlights as a cyberspace math tutor. Her mathematics knowledge extends well beyond calculus. As a math major at the University of California, Los Angeles, she also took more esoteric classes, the ones with names like “complex analysis” and “real analysis,” and she pondered making a career move to professional mathematician.

“I love that stuff,” Ms. McKellar said last month during a visit to Manhattan after a play-reading in the Hamptons. Her conversation was peppered with terminology like “epsilons” and “limsups” (pronounced “lim soups”). “I love continuous functions and proving if functions are continuous or not,” she said.

She may also be the only actress, now or ever, to prove a new mathematical theorem, one that bears her name. Certainly, she is the only theorem prover who appears wearing black lingerie in the July issue of Stuff magazine. Even in that interview, she mentioned math.

Hat tip: Known Unknowns

Thumbnails of the Danica McKellar Stuff shoot, reasonably safe for work, in the extended entry:

Click link for access to larger images.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ChicagoTom says:

    Let me know when the girl who played Doogie Houser’s girlfriend does a spread like this.

    She was hotter.

  2. Mark says:

    I see you’re letting Kevin Aylward post on your blog now. Heh.

  3. James Joyner says:

    I actually thought the math proof was the interesting part. But people should be taken in their totality.

  4. Richard Gardner says:

    This reminds me of the 1930-1940s actress Heddy Lamar, who during WW II patented the idea that has become the basis of today’s latest cell phone systems (3G – Third Generation – CDMA/WCDMA/CDMA2000). She came up with the idea of frequency hopping as a way to control torpedos, what the latest cell phones are using. Her story is fascinating (Austrian, married to an arms merchant, fled the Nazis ….)

    Somehow I can’t imagine Jessica Simpson coming up with anything like this.

  5. ozzippit says:

    Danica Patrick does quite a few calculations each mile, and at 200 mph.