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π and The Simpsons

Simpsons-Packshot white mini

In “The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets”, I documented all the mathematical references hidden in the world’s favourite TV show. Look carefully at various episodes, you will spot everything from Fermat’s last theorem to the Riemann hypothesis, from the P v NP conjecture to Zorn’s lemma.

All these references are embedded in the show, because many of the writers have mathematical backgrounds. To temper their nerdy enthusiasm, the general rule was that they could include as much mathematics as they fancied, as long as it was well hidden or only visible for a fraction of a second (a so-called freeze-frame gag).

However, if the mathematical reference is not particularly obscure, then it can be included at the heart of the action, and can even be included in the actual dialogue. π, of course, falls into this category, because everyone learns about it in school.

There are at least ten π references in “The Simpsons”, and here are my top three favourites, in reverse order:

Alex Bellos’s π Day blog post

For a blog, I write sentences. Of Pilish words. It’s truly difficul.

Mandelbrot’s bum is full of π

They say that $\pi$ is everywhere. (They say that about $\phi$ too, but I’m not buying it.) I thought it would be interesting to discuss the most unexpected place I’m aware it’s ever appeared.

Apiological: mathematical speculations about bees (Part 2: Estimating nest volumes)

This is part 2 of a three-part series of mathematical speculations about bees. Part 1 looked at honeycomb geometry.

Honeybees scout for nesting sites in tree cavities and other nooks and crannies, and need to know whether a chamber is large enough to contain all the honey necessary to feed their colony throughout the winter. A volume of less than 10 litres would mean starvation for the whole colony, whereas 45 litres gives a high chance of survival. How are tiny honeybees able to estimate the capacity of these large enclosed spaces, which can be very irregular and have multiple chambers?

Apiological: mathematical speculations about bees (Part 1: Honeycomb geometry)

Bees have encouraged mathematical speculation for two millennia, since classical scholars tried to explain the geometrically appealing shape of honeycombs. How do bees tackle complex problems that humans would express mathematically? In this series we’ll explore three situations where understanding the maths could help explain the uncanny instincts of bees.

Honeycomb geometry

wild honeycomb

A curvy wild honeycomb.

Honeybees collect nectar from flowers and use it to produce honey, which they then store in honeycombs made of beeswax (in turn derived from honey). A question that has puzzled many inquiring minds across the ages is: why are honeycombs made of hexagonal cells?

The Roman scholar Varro, in his 1st century BC book-long poem De Agri Cultura (“On Agriculture”), briefly states

“Does not the chamber in the comb have six angles, the same number as the bee has feet? The geometricians prove that this hexagon inscribed in a circular figure encloses the greatest amount of space.”

Things I Made And Did

Since you’re here reading this, you probably know that on October 30th, Matt “Friend of the Site” Parker released his book, Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension. If you’ve gone one further and read it, you might have seen the occasional reference to the website, If that website is the book’s DVD extras, this is the website’s extras. We’re going to peek behind the scenes and see how it all works. (Spoiler alert: the maths is powered by maths. It’s recursive maths, all the way down.)