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Simpsons Guide to Math 304

tu-tone writes "The LA times has done an article titled "Simpsons analysts show how math figures into episodes" based off of work done by two professors Andrew Nestler and Sarah J. Greenwald. The work is a Guide to Appearances of Mathematics and Mathematicians on "The Simpsons" . They even gave a talk on it at Harvey Mudd College. It's a fun read." There's a transcript of one of their presentations available.
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Simpsons Guide to Math

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  • Math... (Score:4, Funny)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @09:18AM (#3199552) Homepage Journal
    It embiggens the mind of the smallest man.

    What? 'Math' is a perfectly cromulent word!

  • Mudd, as in Mudd's Women []???
  • D'OH (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 21, 2002 @09:20AM (#3199560)
    marge's hair contains a hidden fractal
  • Euler's Equation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Remik ( 412425 ) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @09:22AM (#3199563)
    In the (in)famous 3-D Simpsons when Homer wanders into the freaky 3-D realm, the equation floating in the background [e^(pi*i)=-1] is infact a form of Euler's equation, one of the most important equations in math. In it's traditional form, [e^(pi*i)]+1=0 it relates the 5 most important constants in math.
    • Re:Euler's Equation (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 21, 2002 @09:34AM (#3199608)
      Also, did you notice the hexadecimal string in 3D land, "46 72 69 6E 6B 20 72 75 6C 65 73 21", decodes as "Frink rules!" in ASCII?

      That's more funny than a stupid "how many gallons in a pound" joke, IMO.
    • Math, Physics and occasional fragments of pascal-like code, appear in the Foxtrot newspaper strip. It's rather fun to follow through Amend's work to see if he's goofed. :)

      And, yeah, when you mention stuff like this to people they call you a nerd or geek, so it fits Slashdot...

    • If you watch that episode carefully you'll notice that the equation P=NP floating around. Whether this assertion (which, translated, is the question "is the set of decision problems defined in a certain way (roughly "easy to solve") the same as another set of decision problems defined in another way (roughly "easy to verify a solution, but possibly very hard to get a solution")) is true or not is the most famous unsolved problem in theoretical computer science. It's almost certainly not true, but proving it's not has turned out to be a bit of a doozy, to say the least.

      I think this basically indicates that the Simpsons writers and animators are just as geeky as the /. readership.

      • I think this basically indicates that the Simpsons writers and animators are just as geeky as the /. readership.
        I wouldn't doubt they even know about slashdot. At least they apparently read the newsgroup. After one particularly bad season, there were numerous "comic-book-store-guy" references: "Needless to say I was online and registering my dissatisfaction in minutes..." and "worst episode ever!" These were pretty much exact quotes of people posting in the newsgroups.

        Not only making fun of how ridiculous people are to do such things, but insinuating a certain stereotype by using the comic book store guy as the geek... They did it again in the episode where Homer gains weight on purpose, the guy at the clothing store says "let me guess... computer programer? Computer operator? SOMETHING to do with computers?"

      • If you watch that episode carefully you'll notice that the equation P=NP floating around.

        There was a Futurama on a few weeks ago-- I think it was the one where Fry and Amy hooked up in the closet-- that had two books sitting on a shelf. The titles were "P" and "NP."
    • To clarify the Electrical Engineering stance on the subject its [e^(pi * j)] + 1 = 0.
      In the words of a former professor:
      • "All those math folks out there just don't know that "i" is already in use as a notation for current."
      I am sure that moderation of this will be a direct result of the number of EE's with points at the momment. But its "j" damn it! jaaaayyyy!
      • Heh, look, it's an engineer lecturing about math. Next he'll tell us the exact value of pi.

        Also, isn't current denoted by "I"? It is in physics. Maybe engineers just mess with everyone's notation.
        • Heh, look, it's an engineer lecturing about math. Next he'll tell us the exact value of pi.

          Dummy, everyone knows pi is exactly 3.14 with a

      • But its "j" damn it! jaaaayyyy!

        What, for "jimaginary"?

    • Favourite T-Shirt I've ever seen, worn by a math prof of mine:

      Math Profs are #-e^(i*pi)

    • by Uri ( 51845 ) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @12:48PM (#3200822)
      In it's traditional form, [e^(pi*i)]+1=0, it relates the 5 most important constants in math...

      ...and is beaten only by 0*i*pi*e = 1+-1
    • In it's traditional form, [e^(pi*i)]+1=0 it relates the 5 most important constants in math.

      Ooh! Not only that, but it uses each one exactly once. Also, it uses each of the basic arithmetic operators exactly once: +, *, ^, =.
    • Re:Euler's Equation (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PhotoGuy ( 189467 )
      In the (in)famous 3-D Simpsons when Homer wanders into the freaky 3-D realm, the equation floating in the background [e^(pi*i)=-1] is infact a form of Euler's equation, one of the most important equations in math. In it's traditional form, [e^(pi*i)]+1=0 it relates the 5 most important constants in math.
      Why do I tend to believe that the math jokes in that 3D sequence were injected by the geeks (and I use that term respectfully) who did the rendering, rather than the writers. Dunno, there were a few other "in jokes" rendering-wise, that made me think most of the visual math humour in that sequence were done by the company that did the rendering. Could be wrong, though.

      There certainly is a lot of other good math humour in the show, tho'

  • I always new that watching the Simpsons was more important than doing my homework! I remember the one about pi, I did laugh about that one. My favorite math joke ever though, was on Animaniacs, where the teacher asks Wakko if he can multiply, he turns into a hundred Wakko "clones" (Hope Lucas doesn't sue me) and they all say, "How's this?" Ah, cartoons, you gotta love them.
  • by sg3000 ( 87992 ) <> on Thursday March 21, 2002 @09:24AM (#3199574)
    My attention span isn't long enough to read the whole article. Damn TV! You've ruined my imagination! Just like you've ruined my ability to ... my ability to ...

    [turns on Itchy and Scratchy]
  • by spoonist ( 32012 ) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @09:35AM (#3199611) Journal
    In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!

    - Homer Jay Simpson
  • by thesolo ( 131008 ) <> on Thursday March 21, 2002 @09:40AM (#3199629) Homepage
    The Simpsons, as anyone who has seen even half of a season's worth of episodes knows, is full of constant social commentary, and many things get repeated. However, their math jokes always make me laugh, and never seem to get stale, IMHO. (Bill Amend's "Foxtrot" is the same way.)

    Several episodes besides those mentioned in the article contain mathematical formulas, etc. In the episode where Jay Sherman (of The Critic fame) comes to Springfield (the episode is entitled "A Star is Burns", #2F31 for anyone who cares), Homer has to decide which short movie made by fellow Springfieldians to vote on. Homer says "I've got some serious thinking to do", and then the camera pans to a shot of his brain, where two monkeys are doing natural logs and derivatives on a chalkboard!! (This of course was also a play on a previous brain-shot where two monkeys were doing nothing but picking fleas from each other)

    They even manage to work in some references into those Butterfinger Shorts. My personal favorite was in a commercial for Butterfinger B.B.s, Bart's math book is entitled "Math For Underachievers"! Lisa tries helping him with math by asking "If you have 15 BB's, and I take 5, what do you have left?" Bart aptly replies "One less sister!" and raises a fist into the air. Even their shameless ads make me smile. ;)
    • Lisa tries helping him with math by asking "If you have 15 BB's, and I take 5, what do you have left?" Bart aptly replies "One less sister!" and raises a fist into the air.

      Which in turn is an old joke but one of the best derivatives of this was delivered by Sid Snot (Kenny Everett) when the teach asks if you had 8 lollies and I took half of them what would I have? To which he replies two broken arms, nobody takes half my lollies and gets away with it. Ah the old ones are often the best.

  • Calculus (Score:4, Funny)

    by loydcc ( 325726 ) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @09:41AM (#3199632) Journal
    Derivitive of R cubed. rdrr. I think it was in episode 2.
  • by LittleGuy ( 267282 ) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @09:44AM (#3199642)
    To check out more references than humanly possible, visit The Simpsons Archive [].
  • Chemistry too (Score:3, Insightful)

    by loydcc ( 325726 ) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @09:45AM (#3199645) Journal
    I remember a commercial where Homer gets smart and lectures at some prestegious university on the quantum super donut. In the background there are Lewis formulas drawn on the chalk board. After careful scrutiny of a paused tape I can say that the structures would never exist in nature or otherwise. Carbon cannot have 5 bonds. Oxygen must have 2 bonds.
    • Re:Chemistry too (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by DavidBrown ( 177261 )
      Sorry, but carbon can have five bonds - even seven sometimes.

      Chemistry is a series of lies built upon lies. As you progress in its study, you learn that a lot of the things you learned before are not quite true.

      It's a very weird egghead part of inorganic chemistry called "hyper-valent carbon" that I've forgotten all the details of - along with almost everything else I learned about Chemistry in College.

      Homer was correct.

      David Brown
      BS Chemistry, 1987 U.S. Naval Academy

      • Re:Chemistry too (Score:2, Insightful)

        by loydcc ( 325726 )
        Not according to the formal rules of Lewis bonding structures. You are correct only when talking about excited energy levels but Lewis structures don't take that into account. That would be Molecular Orbital Theory.
  • Lisa: What do you get if you cross a pig and a sheep?
    Homer: I don't know lisa, what <I>do</I> I get if I cross a pig and a sheep?
    Lisa: The length of the pig by the length of the sheep by the sin of the angle between them.
    Homer: Go to your room.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 21, 2002 @09:53AM (#3199665)
    a review of the past two days of news on slashdot.

    news that hasn't made it:
    -flexible ceramics (hybrid polymers) created using nanoscale chemistry at cornell
    -a 1mm microscope that can examine individual molecules from within a cell developed at uc berkeley
    -nasa and purdue announce serious investment of time and money on advanced life support systems which will likely be the basis for extraterrestrial colonization
    -#1 site critical of scientology yanked from google

    what has made it:
    -resident evil movie review
    -simpsons guide to math
    -self heating can
    -"please help me start my project because i am too stupid to figure it out myself" ask slashdot
    • Okay... so something interesting to YOU didn't make it. I'll give you the Nasa one, but I have to side with Slashdot's decision on the rest of them.

      Simpsons: Fun, interesting to talk about with my friends. Flexible ceramics? ZZzzz. How many years before we see something result from that?

      Resident Evil movie: tempted to see that, Slashdot saved me money today. 1mm Microscope: Woopie. We'll see results from that in what, 5-10 years?

      Self heating can: lots of us bachelors don't like to cook. This could also be quite useful in survival gear. It's going to be out SOON. (According to their marketing brocure...). The Google one you mentioned made it.

      Please help my project? Due date NOW.

      See the pattern? I'm not in any way saying that ultimately the news you suggested is less important, but the big difference is time. If something is going to happen years from now, then it has lower prescedence on what's happening today.
  • by Masem ( 1171 ) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @10:01AM (#3199696)
    After season 7, there was a major shakeup in the production of the show, and this is typically where most fans of the early season Simpsons say when the show went downhill. I would also suspsect that if one were to look at the references cited in this lecture, they'd find a bulk of them in the early seasons as well. (Those cited in the LATimes story, for example, are mostly early seasons). Or, a better comparison is to look at the type of math references. The 'difficulty' of the cited math references (arithmatic being low, calculus being high) would decline after the first few seasons, and today's episodes would have very low difficulty math, if any.

    While approaching the question from a very different direction, I think this study/lecture helps to suggest that there was a significant change in the aim of the show after Season 7. Instead of appealing to the male 18-30 block, with heavy emphasis on college students, the show now is trying to appeal to a younger audience as well as more diverse; the number of these more intelligent gags have dropped drastically since that point, in addition to other noticable changes. I would think it would be hard pressed to find a non-trivial math reference in any recent episode of late, but more than enough pop-culture references are still there.

    • While I agree with most of what you said, my favorite two references of any kind are these:

      Homer: "Larry Flint is Right!" - speaking of Stephen Hawking when he comes to Springfield to correct the innefective "smart" government

      Lisa: "I will NOT be a Gamecock!" - when she thinks that the family being arrested will mean she has to go to one of those schools where they just let anybody in

      I don't know what season those are from, but they seem pretty new. They refer less to one's knowledge of theorems and formulas and more to one's familiarity with academic research, but they're still damn funny.
    • I have to say that this is the Worst Post Ever.
  • It's always heartwarming to see someone find an excuse to watch many hours of television in the name of academics. You see this more often in sociology, but it's about damn time that mathematics and the physical sciences got in on the action.

    I'm going to compile a list of occurrences of physics in the Simpsons -- "Episode 1: Homer drops a doughnut. Fails to obey Newton's Second Law." [drew guffaws from physics students]

  • It's hard to believe this is anything more than an entertaining collection of Simpson's jokes.

    Do you really think students are learning ANYTHING about math from this list? I'm sure they're enjoying the talk, just as much as they would if it were a collection of Simpson jokes about being fat, but it feels like they're learning as much math from the Simpsons Math Lecture as from the Simpsons Fat Jokes.

    The Simpsons does amazingly well at delivering jokes that fly over some viewer's head. Especially for younger viewers, there are many jokes that just aren't in their demographic, so the viewer ignores them. Ironically or not, I bet some viewers just assume that Math isn't in their demographic.

    • If you had bothered to read the article, you'd realize that the point of the lecture is to introduce and discuss mathematical concepts in an entertaining and funny way. The lecturers do not limit themselves to the jokes on the Simpsons, but use them as springboards to talk about related subjects.
  • I didn't see the one where Barney loses Homer's car in New York.

    Parking Authority tape: "...Please wait by your car between the hours of 9 & 5 for parking officer Steve... [man's voice] Grabowski"
    Homer: " many hours is that anyway? [looks at watch] 9..11..denominator..."

  • At the end of the article they talk about how fermats last theorem 'proves' that x^12 + y^12 z^12. However, Fermat did not have a computer, and he was wrong. For powers of 3 and 4, fermat has been proven wrong by computers already.
    • Not only that, but they state that if that one equation (the one in the episode) were true it would prove Fermat's entire theorem. What's this now - proof by ellegant example? Isn't that right up there with proof by lack of counter example, or proof by confusing picture?
    • by gilroy ( 155262 )
      Blockquoth the poster:

      However, Fermat did not have a computer


      and he was wrong.

      Well, Andrew Wiles will have issues with you, and most of the math community agress with him, I believe

      For powers of 3 and 4, fermat has been proven wrong by computers already.

      Um, no. Fermat's Last Theorem was the statement that

      x^n + y^n = z^n

      has no solution where x, y, and z are all integers, if n>3.

      To disprove Fermat's Theorem, all you would need to do would be to find a triplet of integers that obeys the equation above. Computers proved that for n < 12 (IIRC), there were none. But that doesn't prove the Theorem and (of course) fails to disprove it.

      I think you confused the sense of the Theorem, perhaps because it is phrased negatively.

      • It's fairly easy to check Fermat's theorem to finite values of x, y, and n: Say, checking everything up to x, y 2000 and n 15 ought to run in a few hours. (Hint: you cannot use floating point -- so you've got to program multiplication and addition for _extremely_ long integers.)

        But how in heck could a computer check this for n=4 and _all_ values of x, y, and z?

        OTOH, as the transcript pointed out, you don't need to know how far Fermat's theorem has been tested to see that 1782^12 + 1841^12 = 1922^12 is wrong. Multiplying even numbers by even numbers always gives an even number. The equation is wrong, no arithmetic required. Multiplying odd numbers by odd numbers always gives an odd number. Add even to odd, and you get odd. Make it 1921^12, and we might need a forty-digit calculator to be absolutely _sure_ this wasn't the disproof of Fermat's last theorem...
        • If you're curious,

          fishbulb 9# bc
          1782^12 + 1841^12

          So while it's technically wrong, it's still pretty friggin' close. It's only off by 700212234530608691501223040959. ;-)
          • Which is a pretty good illustration of round-off error in floating point. The first 9 digits are the same; many calculators only carry 8 digits, so they'd probably calculate it out as equal, even though anyone who knows basic number theory can see that it's NOT equal. On my Sharp EL-506A calculator (10 digits), it properly recognized the inequality, but the leading digit of 1922^12 - (1782^12 + 1841^12) was 3 instead of the correct 7. Thirtytwo bit floating point (type "float", on most computers) is either going to have too few bits in the mantissa to detect the difference, or too few bits in the exponent to do the calculation at all.

            Of course, what is worse for engineers and programmers is that most calculations that _should_ come out to 0 or equality, don't if you do them in floating point. Numbers derived from real world measurements (including vote counts in the 2000 election) are usually only accurate to 2 or 3 figures, so exact calculations are pointless anyway, but if you forget that the numbers are fuzzy it's real easy to write "if (x==y)" and go nuts figuring out why the "then" branch is never taken. Or worse, to write "while (x!=y)", which will never terminate if the variables are floating point...
      • Ok I read in my discrete math book that integers x, y and z have been found such that x^n + y^n = z^n for n=4. However the article states that fermats last theorem said there is no solution for n > 2.
    • It's close, that makes it more cleverer b/c they did the math:

      1782 ^ 12 = 1.02539783562263E+39
      1844 ^ 12 = 1.54572062047814E+39 +

      1922 ^ 12 = 2.54121025931480E+39

      Lameness filter is powerfully lame.
  • First the Britney Spears Guide to Semiconductor Physics [], then we got Kate Moss' guide to Linux disc partitioning [] and Courtney Love's explanation of dual booting Win2k and Linux [], and now this? Wow.

    I tell ya, these celbrities are smarter than any of us previously thought!

  • by rjthomas61 ( 310385 ) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @11:22AM (#3200139)
    >Marge: Now I know you haven't liked some of my past suggestions, like switching to the metric system.
    >Grampa: The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets 40 rods to the hogshead, and that's the way I likes it!

    Let's see....
    40 rods/Hogshead x
    1 mile/320 rods x
    1 Hogshead/63 gallons =
    0.00198 miles/gallon or
    504 gallons/mile

    Perhaps Grampa drives an SUV?

  • As he is being sucked into a black hole, homer says:

    "Doh! I should have read that book by that wheel-chair guy!"
  • I think the writer of that article interpreted this joke differently than I did:

    In Greenwald's favorite "Simpsons" math moment, Homer and Marge Simpson are considering sending their daughter Lisa to a school for the gifted.

    As the camera pans, two young girls playing the game of patty-cake recite the following playground chant: "Cross my heart and hope to die / Here's the digits that make pi / 3.1415926535897932384..." and the camera pans away.

    The joke, of course, is that the digits that make pi -- a circle's circumference divided by its diameter -- continue infinitely. The writers are clearly aware that pi is what's called an irrational number -- one that cannot be expressed in terms of the quotient of two integers in lowest terms. And to "get it," the viewers have to understand that it means you can never say what pi is exactly, in the same way you can say what 5 is.

    I don't think the joke is "Ha ha! They're going to go on forever!". I think it's merely "Ha ha! They're so geeky that they memorized the first umpteen digits of pi for fun!".
  • by Yoda2 ( 522522 )
    If you're interested in Fermat's Last Theorem, Fermat's Enigma [] is a fairly interesting and easy read. It covers both history on Fermat and Andrew Wiles who finally proved the theorem in 1993/1994.
  • by birder ( 61402 ) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @12:17PM (#3200532) Homepage
    One of my favs:

    Tom: Now let's look at the crew a little.

    Man 2: They're a colorful bunch. They've been dubbed "the Three Musketeers". Heh heh heh --

    Tom: And we laugh legitimately. There's a mathematician, a different _kind_ of mathematician, and a statistician.

  • Ok, I have to take issue with the point that Sarah J. Greenwald makes here:

    Two girls at a gifted school play patty-cake while chanting the digits of pi:
    Cross my heart and hope to die
    Here's the digits that make pi


    This was a good starting point to discuss the irrationality of Pi and the fact that this meant that not only would the patty-cake game never end, but it would also never get boring since the decimal expansion would never repeat.

    Ok, well i concede that you'll get a non-repeating string of numbers, but I take issue with the idea that it will never get boring. It will get very boring, I think, at least in base've only got 10 digits to work with! Even in hexadecimal with it's few extra digits it's gonna wear out pretty quick for kids today, what with their short attention spans. We need something that'll really captivate them. Now I know this isn't a permanent solution, but I suggest we read Pi in something like base 42....or base 500....something to keep that repetition of digits down.
  • pi is exactly three!!!

  • One more pun that people have missed: The title of the talk was ``The Simpsons Rule''. See MathWorld for information on Simpson's Rule [].

    Also, here's the email announcing the talk:

    DOH! Yes, you heard right....


    The Simpsons Rule: Mathematical Morsels from "The Simpsons"

    next THURSDAY, March 14

    6:30 PM, Galileo McAlister (HMC)

    by Dr. Sarah J. Greenwald, Appalachian State University and Dr. Andrew Nestler, Santa Monica College

    Now in its 13th season, "The Simpsons" is an award-winning global pop culture phenomenon. But did you know that "The Simpsons" also contains over one hundred mathematical moments, with material ranging from arithmetic to calculus to Riemannian geometry? There's even a resident mathematician/inventor, Professor Frink. Join us as we present some of our favorite mathematical excerpts from "The Simpsons," and explore the related mathematical content, accuracy and
    pedagogical value.

    Aftermath: Doughnuts (MMMM...Doughnuts) will be served at the end of the talk.
    • Professor Moody really enjoys his puns and other wordplay - when I was at Harvey Mudd, some other fun math talks included:

      A lecture on "Pi" - followed by pie.

      A lecture on the mathematics of juggling by Ron Graham - followed by graham crackers.

      A lecture on math (I can't remember what the topic was) by Ed Burger - followed by Baskin Robbins Chilly Brrrgers.

  • by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @02:13PM (#3201538) Homepage Journal
    There was a show on Black Holes on the Discovery Channel one day. They used the 3D episode of the Simpsons to illustrate how a black hole works.

    I haveta admit, I carried away a lot more about black holes because of that episode. For example, I had always heard that 'time and space are curved', but could never really picture it until they explained it using footage from that show.

    Us right brained people don't like books a whole lot. Math equations put us into screensaver mode. So when we get a visual like that, it suddenly clicks into place.

    Kudos to Discovery Channel and the Simpsons for giving me the foundation ability to understand the more sophisticated theories about time and space.
  • [] is a site that lists easter eggs in various things, among them TV shows. Of course, the Simpsons are full of them, and the 3D episode that was mentioned in this article has one of the coolest one I have heard (and it is math related)

    "When homer stpes into the 3rd dimension (It's in a halloween episode, i think) there is a string of hexidecimal numbers that read: 46 72 69 6E 6B 20 72 75 6C 65 73 21 when converted to ASCII, this reads Frink rules!"

  • My Favorite (Score:2, Redundant)

    by gnovos ( 447128 )
    Pi is exactly 4!

  • Stop remembering TV and get back to work!

  • This reminds me of one of my (original) math jokes... It came from two semi-related incidents: Debunking a 2=1 math proof that our math teacher threw up for us in grade 10, and then learning about how calculus works.

    The 2=1 proof depended on creating a non-obvious reference to 0/0=1, and then reducing down to 2=1.

    Looking at it for a while, I relized that 0/0=x is the same as solving for 0=x*0 ... In other words, X can be anything (integer, real , complex...).

    In first-year honors calculus, I realized that calculus is based on the same kind of construct, except for that you're solving for the limit of a/b=x as a and b approach zero -- in other words, dancing with the devil of 0/0.

    The moral of my story:

    Calculus is based on the fact that 0/0 can be anything you want, depending on how you approach it.
    Any references to prior art (I first came up with that pun in 1980)?

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