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
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(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.

The Simpsons family posing in front of their home.
The Simpsons family posing in front of their home.   (AP Photo/Fox Broacasting Co.)
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