The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh - review by Christopher Bray

Christopher Bray

The Sumpsons

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets

By

Bloomsbury 253pp £18.99 order from our bookshop
 

One day in August 2005 two fans of The Simpsons were invited along to a read-through of a forthcoming episode. Maths professors Sarah Greenwald and Andrew Nestler enjoyed things well enough, but the show’s writers weren’t altogether happy with their script. Good though the baseball-centred ‘Marge and Homer Turn a Couple Play’ was, it didn’t have any jokes that specifically tickled their guests’ fancies. A brainstorming later, it was decided that the show should climax with the scoreboard at the ballpark being used for a competition. How many people, the crowd was asked to guess, made up the night’s attendance: A) 8,191; B) 8,128; C) 8,208; D) No way to tell? Pleased with their amended script, the writing team emailed Greenwald to thank her and Nestler for coming by: ‘It really did light a little fire under us.’

Huh? I love The Simpsons as much as the next man, but a bunch of random numbers isn’t my idea of a show-stopping gag. Except, one learns from Simon Singh’s The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, those numbers aren’t random at all. ‘Each one’, explains Singh, ‘is remarkable in its

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