It’s super-genius vs superhero in a battle of quantum chess

2 Feb 2016

Image via ‘Anyone Can Quantum’ (IQIM Caltech/YouTube)

Stephen Hawking has been challenged to a battle of Quantum Chess by actor Paul Rudd, all in the name of bringing quantum physics to the masses.

Quantum mechanics has a bad reputation. Not that your parents wouldn’t like you to hang around with it – in fact, perhaps the opposite – but they may not understand the allure, because they may find the subject itself completely unfathomable.

For the average person, a dark cloud of complexity obscures quantum mechanics from everyday thought, and illuminating this subject for a broad audience is a great challenge of science communication.

And so, the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter (IQIM) at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) assembled a crack team to demystify quantum mechanics for the general public: one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists and that guy who played Phoebe’s husband in Friends.

Paul Rudd takes on Stephen Hawking

Paul Rudd most recently played Marvel’s Ant-Man on the silver screen, but now he’s starring in a YouTube short and pitting his wits – and his wit – against the one and only Stephen Hawking.

The challenge, made by Rudd, is a game of quantum chess, narrated by none other than Keanu Reeves and interspersed with plenty of smack talk from the two competing parties.

You see, quantum mechanics isn’t just for the geniuses of the world – even Brian Fantana can have a go.

Directed by, and briefly starring, Alex Winter (who you may know better as Bill S Preston of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), this mini movie aims to prove that Anyone Can Quantum or, at least, grasp the fundamentals of quantum physics.

Quantum Chess now crowdfunding

The short film premiered at ‘One Entangled Evening’, a prelude to Caltech’s Quantum Summit last month, and the game itself is legit.

Created by Chris Cantwell, Quantum Chess allows moves such as Schrödinger’s King, bringing whole new challenges to the game.

Launching on Kickstarter today, 2 February, Quantum Chess began as a project for long-time quantum computing student Chris Cantwell in March 2014.

“As a game, which I threw together in one month for a final project, it was playable but certainly not fun. It wasn’t even reminiscent of chess,” he writes on the game’s website.

However, the unique concept attracted the interest of IQIM’s Spiros Michalakis. “With Spiros’ help I was able to turn the game into something that I consider to be truly special,” Cantwell adds.

The result is a game that merges chess with the quantum world in an effort to make quantum theory more accessible overall. Of course, as a great physicist and communicator, Hawking is an obvious choice to join the cause – but why Paul Rudd?

As it turns out, IQIM scientists were called upon as consultants for last year’s Ant-Man, which explores a fictionalised quantum realm.

Gigglebit is’s daily dose of the funny and fantastic in science and tech, to help start your day on a lighter note.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.