I’ve just finished my second non-fiction book of the summer. This one was given to me by my friend, Jill Gough, The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets, by Simon Singh. I don’t know why “their” isn’t capitalized. It makes me a little crazy, but the author has it that way on his Web Site, so, there you go.
Now, I’m not a math person. Well, I wasn’t when I was a student. I didn’t have a math phobia or anything, I just had a complete lack of interest and understanding. This would have been bad enough, but having a math teacher as a mother and an engineer as a grandfather made it much worse. When I tell my students that when they’re at the dinner table doing homework and there are tears of frustration and anger and confusion I know what they’re talking about, I 100% mean it.
So, Jill knows I love The Simpsons, and she said when she saw this book she thought of me and she got it and gave it to me.
I dove right in and was amazed to find out that so many of the writers of the show had advanced degrees in mathematics. I mean, several times during the book when the author is introducing writers that he’s going to talk about he says that as they were finished grad school they were looking at careers in applied mathematics, but then decided to pursue their love of comedy writing also. I love smart humor, and well, the writers of The Simpsons have it in DROVES.
The author goes through several episodes pointing out bits that unless you’re a capital m Math Person, you would not get at all, and there are LOTS of them. Some of them I got after reading the book and some of them were WAY, WAY, WAY over my head. I have two friends in mind that I want to pass this book on to, (both grads of Georgia Tech, both engineers, and both fans of the show. The author assures the reader that even if they don’t have the working math knowledge he’s going to talk about they can still understand it, and you know what, he’s right!
In addition to The Simpsons, there is also a section on another favorite show from the same creators, Futurama. The math in that show is even more in depth and probably one to two more “WAY”s over my head.
One of the neat things about the gags that the writers inserted into the shows is that they were not the focal point of a gag. Oftentimes they were put in knowing that in order to fully appreciate them viewers would need to record the show on their VCR (anyone remember doing that?) and use the pause button repeatedly.
If you’re a fan of The Simpsons or Futurama, I recommend this book. If you’re a Math Person, and a fan of either, or both, of these shows, I highly recommend it. I gained a greater understanding of some mathematical concepts (and quite a few remained out of my reach) and my respect for the writers of these shows went higher than it already was.
Here are a couple of scenes from episodes that are discussed in the book:
Bart The Genius
The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace
There are many, many more episodes discussed.