I’ve written before in my first post about how studying the sciences can lead to unexpected career choices – did you know that Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” is a chemistry major? – and I’d like to continue with that theme. Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” has stocked the writers rooms of both those shows with mathematicians, (what is it about science and math that seems to lend itself to comedy, I wonder?) and they never miss an opportunity to slip in a mathematical joke or use their expertise to the show’s advantage.
Al Jean, head writer of “The Simpsons,” graduated from Harvard at the tender age of 20. Upon securing his job at “The Simpsons,” he proceeded to acquire as many math geeks as he could to fill the writers room. This is reflected in the third act of “Treehouse of Horror VI” when Homer Simpson enters the third dimension.
As Mr. Simpson wanders the strange plane of polygons and equations floating through the 3D space, there appears to be an equation that, incredibly, disproves Fermat’s Last Theorem, (that no three positive integers can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two).
If one were to plug the numbers of the equation drifting behind Mr. Simpson into an ordinary calculator, it would, indeed, appear to negate Fermat’s Last Theorem. Are we to believe that a gaggle of comedy writers solved an equation that has baffled mathematical minds for 400 years?
Alas, that is not the case.
If one were to use a scientific calculator to investigate the equation, you’ll find that that answer is off by 0.00000004. Close, Mr. Simpson, but no cigar.
In the episode “Marge and Homer Turn a Couple Play,” on the jumbo screen at an Isotopes game, the fans are asked to guess the night’s attendance. The options are 8,191; 8,128; 8,208.
These three choices are anything but random; they represent a prime number, (a number with no positive divisors other than one and itself) a perfect number, (one whose divisors add up to itself) and a narcissistic number, (one where it is the sum of its own digits each raised to the power of the number of digits).
Tomorrow: the hidden mathematics of “Futurama.”