Homer+Bart×maths = prime formula for comedy genius


YOU MIGHT need a maths degree to pick up hidden jokes in the popular animated television programme The Simpsons. Yet the maths on display is very real and has a specific meaning.

The secret maths world of main character Homer Simpson was revealed yesterday during a talk in Waterford by stand-up maths comedian Matt Parker.

He presented a talk entitled, “Maths Magic and the Maths in The Simpsons” during a session at Waterford Institute of Technology, organised as part of this week’s national Maths Week initiative.

“They hide the maths jokes but it is all quite advanced mathematics,” explained Mr Parker, who spoke after delivering two talks yesterday morning, for primary and for secondary school students.

Mr Parker is based in the maths department at Queen Mary University of London, where he co-ordinates its maths outreach programme.

Although Homer would likely struggle reciting the two times table, he becomes a vehicle for subtle mathematical jokes inserted into the show by creator Matt Groening.

And while Groening himself does not originate the jokes, his colleagues are more than able, given they include both PhD mathematicians and physicists, said Mr Parker.

The writers do it because they love mathematics and they hope that like-minded people will see and appreciate the mathematical jokes, Mr Parker said.

He in turn uses the popular show as a way to hold the interest of young students who know and like The Simpsonseven if they have no knowledge of the mathematics hidden within the programme.

His talk included a number of examples, including an episode where Homer, as a two-dimensional cartoon figure, enters a 3D world and while there, an unexplained mathematical formula floats past him.

It is an almost correct but flawed calculation that, if correct, would disprove the solution to Fermat’s Theorem, a 300-year-old mathematical conundrum that was finally solved in 1995.

In another episode during which the Simpson family attended a baseball game, the spectators were invited to guess that day’s attendance.

Three numbers were offered as possible answers: 8,191 8,128, and 8,208, numbers that have a particular mathematical significance, Mr Parker said.

The first is a “Mersenne prime number”, one of only 47 such numbers yet discovered.

The second is a “perfect number”, one where if you extract all of the factors found in 8,128, their sum would add up to 8,128, Mr Parker said.

The last is known as a “narcissistic number”, one where if each digit in the number is raised to the exponential power of the number of digits (with 8,208 it is the power of four), then their total would deliver the original number, here 8,208.

Mathematics helps to develop a particular thinking process, something that remains valuable through life no matter what career a person pursued, Mr Parker said.

“If you stay with maths to the end of second level you are equipping yourself with thinking skills that are valuable in later life,” he said.



  • But what use is this Algebra Stuff in the Real World?, 7.30pm in Dublin at Rua Red, beside the Luas stop in Tallaght
  • Talk, Hidden Secrets from the World of Dr Maths, looking at randomness and pattern, 10am, the Science Gallery at Trinity College.

QTwo fans were overheard discussing a rugby match: “It was a good game – 62 points scored overall.”

“Yes,” replied the other “and good tries, in fact the number of penalties scored was only one more than the number of tries scored.”

“Good drop goal near the end,” remarked the first, but added: “Pity that last minute penalty didn’t go over. Nevertheless an overall success rate of 80 per cent for kicks at goal.”

You can’t figure out who won the match from this snippet, but can you figure out how many of each score (tries, conversions and penalties) there were in the match?

A Six tries, four conversions, seven penalties and one drop goal = 62 points – no other combination adding up to 62 will concur with all the information overheard.