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Friday, February 26, 2016

Everyday Math: Your Favorite Hit Series

“When will I even use this stuff?” This question can be heard echoing off the walls of math classrooms everywhere. Okay sure, no one is going to approach you on the street and ask you to calculate the value of x. However, it is impossible to deny that mathematics is everywhere. Here at the Center of Math, we want to make math accessible to mathematicians, but also to people who may not appreciate the roll math plays in their everyday lives. This blog series will highlight unexpected areas where math may be hiding.

Math in your Favorite Hit Series 

Whether its channel surfing in your living room or heading to your local theater, the entertainment industry is a guilty pleasure for almost everyone. With your hands full of popcorn and thoughts submersed in the show, you may not realize how large of a roll math plays in some of your favorite movies and television shows. Here are some television series and movies that include story lines centered on mathematics. 

The Simpsons

Believe it or not, this long-time beloved American cartoon regularly includes a heavy dose of mathematics. In fact, the team of writers includes some paramount mathematicians. Executive producer Al Jean studied mathematics at Harvard, and Jeff Westbrook found himself on the Simpsons team after serving as a senior researcher at Yale. Their love for academia can be found in a wide array of mathematical references throughout the series. Some are very blatant, as full episodes are based on a mathematical storyline. This is the case in "MoneyBart", where Lisa manages Bart's baseball team using her keen sense of math. Other references are well concealed within the comedy and may only be obvious to those well-versed in the area. In "Marge and Homer Turn a Couple Play", three numbers appear on a jumbotron. These numbers seem random to the viewers, but the mathematicians-turned-writers deliberately chose 8128, 8208, and 9181– a perfect number, a narcissistic number, and a Mersenne prime. The most famous Simpsons math moment is when Homer jots an equation on board, in an effort to create an annoying noise, and as a result disproves Fermat's last theorem.

Click here to watch: Simon Singh discusses The Simpsons and Fermat's Last Theorem 

The Big Bang Theory 

The math references in this television show may be more obvious than those in The Simpsons, but the importance of math in the show's dynamic can not be denied. The Big Bang Theory documents the life of a group of 5 'nerdy' physicist friends. The humor that drives the show comes from the witty comedic interactions that occur and the interesting way that the show plays on 'academic' stereotypes. The show has a science and math consultant, Dr. David Saltzberg, who checks the accuracy and relevancy of the jokes on the show. Each episode includes a whiteboard that is crawling with real equations. One of the actresses, Mayim Bialik, even has a Ph. D in neuroscience that backs up her character's role on the show.


Many of the same comedic, mathematical masterminds that are credited with The Simpsons, also write for Futurama. The creator, David Cohen squeezes comedy into every inch of the screen. He makes use of background space, which is where many of the mathematical references can be found. Only a certain niche of people will take note of these jokes, and it makes the show seem custom-tailored to their interests. The writers of Futurama even created a theory specifically for the show. Ken Keeler created the "Futurama Theorem", which was the first mathematical proof designed specifically for entertainment purposes. He was also interested in portraying mathematics as fun and exciting, in order to attract young viewers to the field. 

Click here to watch: Futurama Theorem 

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