Current Weather
The Spy FM

Divide By D’oh! The ‘Mathematical Secrets’ Of The Simpsons

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
October 26, 2013

Most people watch The Simpsons to laugh. And, perhaps, feel a little superior to the animated family who are Springfield’s best known, if often most dysfunctional citizens.

But Simon Singh, the Cambridge-trained physicist and best-selling author, watches the show not just for laughs, but also for the … math? In his new book, The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, he argues that the writers and producers have woven a lot of math into The Simpsons — and into a highly honored show from the same team, Futurama.

Singh is no stranger to math; his first book was about French mathematician Pierre de Fermat’s famous unsolved theorem. And the idea of hidden mathematical knowledge encoded in the adventures of Homer and Bart seems far-fetched, but Singh assures NPR’s Scott Simon it’s true. “I was watching The Simpsons one day, an episode called ‘The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,’ and there on a blackboard behind Homer was an equation that directly relates to Fermat’s last theorem. And I don’t miss things like that.”

Interview Highlights

On “Evergreen Terrace” writer David X. Cohen

[He] has written mathematical papers, you know, serious research papers. And then I found out that he’s not the only mathematician — there are other writers that have Ph.D.s in maths, one was a Yale professor. And they’ve all been doing it, they’ve all been smuggling math into the scenes of The Simpsons.

On why so many mathematicians ended up on The Simpsons

The one that they all seemed to agree on was the fact that mathematicians love logic, but they also love twisting logic, they love bending logic, they love playing with it. And they love occasionally breaking it. And when you break logic, that’s where humor appears.

On the importance of the VCR

A lot of [the jokes] are freeze-frame gags, which means you literally have to pause the show to get the reference. You have to remember that when The Simpsons started, around 1989-1990, roughly half of the homes in America had a VCR, so for the first time people could watch episodes again and again, and they could get these freeze-frame gags. The writers said it allowed them to increase the comedic density, because they could get more in. And my suggestion is that it also allows them to increase the nerdic density, because you can get more obscure references in at the same time. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

7PM to 9PM Juke Joint Revival

Juke Joint Revival

Juke Joint Revival rivals any Rockabilly/Roots show on the air today, and the host of that program, Jenni Zee, lives and breathes the Rockabilly lifestyle. Her show has drawn the attention of Rockabilly fans the world over.

Listen Live Now!

9PM to 10PM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

View the program guide!

10PM to 11PM The Blank Generation

The Blank Generation

Our punk show, The Blank Generation, is hosted by Katie Jones and Chad Hunnicutt. Katie has been attending punks shows for more than half her life. Chad is a member of local band, The Muck Savages.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center