October 24, 2011, 7:30 am

# Math Monday: TV Lawyers Solve NP-Complete Problem (part 2)

This is the second installment of a two-part article from guest blogger Ed Aboufadel. Thanks again, Ed, for contributing.

In Part I, we learned of an instance of the NP-complete problem subset-sum [1] that was solved by three lawyers on an episode of the USA Network show Suits [2]. The problem was to go through a set of deposits made to five banks in Liechtenstein and find a subset of deposits, where the total of the deposits was \$152,375,242.18. Described as “simple mathematics” by one of the lawyers, the team solved the problem in a relatively short length of time. They couldn’t use a quick approximation algorithm for subset-sum, since they needed the sum to be exactly equal to their target amount. So, were they just lucky, smarter than the rest of us, or did they do something practically impossible?

Consider the following “back of the envelope” calculations. First,…

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