Explained: The Complex Math Jokes Hidden in The Simpsons
Staff of math-nerd writers have inserted many mind-blowing freeze-frame gags
By Ruth Brown, Newser Staff
Posted Sep 22, 2013 5:26 PM CDT
The Simpsons family posing in front of their home.   (AP Photo/Fox Broacasting Co.)

(Newser) – Many of us can quote endlessly from The Simpsons, citing obscure plots, characters, and gags from the show's 24 seasons. But not so many people are aware of the complex math jokes that have been quietly slipped into the series over the years, writes Simon Singh, who calls The Simpsons the "most mathematically sophisticated television show in the history of primetime broadcasting," and has recently published a book on the subject. In the Guardian, Singh details and explains many of the very nerdy, often "blink-and-you'll-miss-them" math references—we'd summarize them here, but they're way too complicated for this space.

The reason behind these ongoing Easter eggs is the number of math nerds on the show's staff over the years, explains Singh. Executive producer Al Jean studied math at Harvard at just age 16; writer Jeff Westbrook held a senior research position at Yale; and many other writers have math degrees, with several PhDs in the mix. Writer David X Cohen (he was "S Cohen," but changed the initial due to his love of algebra), who has a Master's in computer science, inserted one very complex gag on a theorem by 17th-century French mathematician Pierre de Fermat, which Singh says was so shocking to him, "I almost snapped my slide rule." But the average viewer just saw a second of Homer scribbling numbers on a blackboard. For thorough explanations of some of the gags, click through to read Simon Singh's full column.

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Showing 3 of 20 comments
aunuts
Sep 24, 2013 12:25 PM CDT
The 7 idiots that voted ridiculous flunked math.
People_Suck
Sep 23, 2013 10:44 PM CDT
I'm pissed they cancelled Futurama.
Becuzican
Sep 23, 2013 6:49 AM CDT
While interesting, the problem with pure mathematical proofs like Eulers Identity, or e to the i pi power plus one equals zero, is that nobody really knows what they mean, including our mathematicians. Why? Because these numbers have no dedicated association with measurable time. In other words, this formula does not occur as an event in normal space and time. Perhaps you do not expect your mathematics to be so real, but until somebody figures out a way to join together the mathematics of a pure proof with an objective measurement of time, we will be unable to prove the existence of God or solve the theory of everything. Wait. You say that this problem was already solved thousands of years ago by our distant ancestors without the "aid" of complex fractions and curved geometries? You mean there is a pure mathematical proof based on whole numbers and perfect geometric forms that already has its own measurement of time, which we call God's Time? That would be a four-dimensional figure. Please publish it.