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“The Simpsons” Has Been Secretly Teaching Its Fans Complicated Math

Several writers for The Simpsons completed degrees in math and physics before they turned to screen writing for the beloved cartoon

Photo: tagh

After Marcia Wallace passed away last month, “The Simpsons” lost one of its characters, the 4th grade teacher Edna Krabappel, whose voice Wallace had provided for years. Mrs. Krabappel probably spent more time cynically cackling in the classroom than teaching math—but she wasn’t the only source of math lessons on the best cartoon television series ever to run. Several writers for The Simpsons, including Al Jean, J. Stewart Burns, Jeff Westbrook, and David X. Cohen, completed degrees in math and physics before they turned to screenwriting, Wired reports. And, ever faithful to their academic roots, those writers have found numerous ways to sneak in mini math lessons in various Simpsons episodes over the years, thanks to a variety of nerdy, clueless and informative characters.

A new book, The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, takes a deep dive into the math, physics and astronomy specifics of the show, but here are just a few examples, courtesy of Wired:

  • “Treehouse of Horror VI: Homer 3″ (1995): Homer gets sucked into the third dimension, giving viewers a lesson on depth. 
  • “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace” (1998): Homer’s notes include formulas for the then-elusive Higgs boson, the density of the universe and the geometry of donuts. 
  • “They Saved Lisa’s Brain” (1999): Physicist Stephen Hawking compliments Homer’s donut-shaped universe theory–a serious hypothesis among astronomers. 
  • “Bye Bye Nerdie” (2001): Professor Frink parrots a real-life proposal from 1897 to round Pi down to 3. 
  • “Bart the Genius” (1990): Bart has nightmares about the the trains-traveling-at-different-speeds question
  • “Marge in Chains” (1993): A convenience store owner can recite π to its 40,000th digit. 
  • “Bart the Genius” (1990): Bart struggles to understand why the answer to the calculus problem y = (r3)/3 is worthy of interest. 

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Simpsons Break into the Smithsonian  
Is There a Homer Simpson Effect Among Scientists? 

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