Here's a calculation I hadn't heard of before, and don't actually know the details of:
They were both right, in a sense: some of the calculations he pulls off have a hint of Houdini. For instance, he can start with two paper cones, to find the relation between drag force and velocity, and—believe it or not—arrive at the cost of a round-trip plane ticket from New York to Los Angeles. He works out the problem in a blur of equations, remarking that a gram of gasoline and a gram of fat contain the same amount of energy, that drag force is proportional to velocity squared, and so on. The number he arrives at ($700) isn't the cheapest deal out there, but it's roughly right.
I've recently priced PHL-(SFO/OAK) flights, and this is roughly right. (And this uses chemistry, which is awesome because I was a chemist in a former life. Gasoline and fat are both basically long chains of carbon atoms.) The article tells of other similar party tricks. It would be nice to see some details, but the Chronicle seems to pitch itself at a humanities-ish audience.