The Simpsons and their mathematical secrets

Give me a shitty rainy spring day and I’ll read a book. Not really, but this time I did. Not one of the many unread ones in my bookshelf either. No I’d actually go to the bookstore and buy one. I finally got The Simpsons and their mathematical secrets by Simon Singh, mentioned in a previous post. I’ve been wanting to read it for a while now and I went through it cover to cover in one (long) sitting.

ISBN-13: 978-1408835302
ISBN-13: 978-1408835302

I was expecting a sort of listing of most mathematical material appearing on the Simpsons. Instead – and unsurprisingly if you think about it – the book exposes just a handful, but with very interesting background stories, both about the maths themselves and the Simpsons.

For example, π can be seen more than once in the Simpsons. Here’s one baffling bit of history Singh mentions in the book:

Others exploited Machin’s infinite series with even greater verve, including an English amateur mathematician named William Shanks, who devoted most of his life to calculating π. In 1874, he claimed to have calculated 707 digits of π.

In honor of his heroic achievement, the science museum in Paris known as the Palais de la Découverte decorated its Pi Room with an inscription of all 707 digits. Unfortunately, in the 1940s it was discovered that Shanks had made an error while calculating the 527th decimal place, which impacted on every subsequent digit. The Palais de la Découverte called in the decorators and Shanks’s reputation took a knock. Nevertheless, 526 decimal places was still a world record at the time.

It’s a bit sad considering that today’s computers can achieve the same in a couple of seconds.

There’s this other funny bit of history about the metric system:

[…] in 1793. The French thought it was mathematically appealing to have a day with ten hours, each hour containing one hundred minutes, and each minute containing one hundred seconds. Although the French abandoned the system in 1805 […]

Hilbert’s Intinite Hotel thought experiment that I very recently saw as a video on the Internet is also mentioned in the book to explain that there are differents kinds of infinity.

The pancake sorting problem is alluded to in one of the Simpsons episodes. Also, did you know that Bill Gates co-authored a paper on the subject?

Since I read the Bible, I know why 666 represents the devil. Now I learned that there is a funky prime number containing the Number of the Beast:

Mathematicians, who generally do not have a reputation for diabolical numerology and demonic worship, have a surprising fondness for 666. They have even singled out a particular prime number that includes this series of digits: 1,000,000,000,000,066,600,000,000,000,001. It is labeled Belphegor’s prime, in honor of one of the seven princes of hell. As well as containing 666 at its heart, this infamous prime also has thirteen unlucky zeroes on either side of the Number of the Beast.

Overall it’s a very fun book. You don’t need to be the biggest fan of the Simpsons or a maths genius. Just a tiny tiny interest in both ;)