Text Transcript of

Friday, January 9, 2004, 10:45-10:55am

Speaker: Sarah J. Greenwald

Slide 1

Thank you. My name is Sarah Greenwald and I'm a professor in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.

*Futurama*, which aired on Fox, follows the exploits of
Fry, who accidentally fell into a cryogenic chamber and awoke
1000 years later, in the year 3000.

*Futurama* is especially fun to watch, because math, science or
programming references seem to appear in almost every episode.

For those of you who are familiar with my work on
Simpsons math, you might begin
to get the idea that I watch a lot of Fox tv. While this is true, the
motivation for this talk today came from Art Benjamin, one of the
incoming editors of Math Horizons. He had seen the Simpsons math
article and approached me about writing additional pop culture articles.
Since I was a casual viewer of
*Futurama*, I contacted some expert fans for help.
My co-authors are Tom Georgoulias, who has a
degree in chemical engineering from NC State, and Marc
Wichterich, who is working on his Diplom in cs at RWTH Aachen
University, in Germany. While we are discussing degrees,
I should mention that
my PhD is from the University of Pennsylvania. Our Math Horizons
*Futurama*
article is expected to appear in April [This did appear in April 2004].
And if you're interested in writing a pop culture article for Horizons
please do contact Art.

Slide 2

Some of the math references in

Cook and Levin formulated the P = NP problem independently in 1971.
If P = NP, then every problem that can be checked with a nondeterministic
algorithm can also be solved through one we can actually implement.
Thus scientists have been looking for either a problem that is in
NP but not in P or a proof that there is no such problem. A 1 million
dollar prize has been offered to anyone who can prove whether or not
P equals NP. If we had the books from
*Futurama* that supposedly list the
problems in each class, then we could compare them, see of the NP book lists
any extra ones, and collect our prize money.

Slide 3

Ken Keeler has a PhD in applied math from Harvard. His doctoral thesis was on Map Representations and Optimal Encoding for Image Segmentation. When he was finishing up there were very few jobs, so he applied to both academic and tv writing jobs. After a year at Bell labs, he decided to try tv writing. In a gotfuturama.com interview, Marc asked about his many years at school and Ken Keeler joked that a

Slide 4

Keeler refers to the episode "Xmas Story" written by David Cohen in which robot friend Bender receives a card from the machine that built him wishing "Son #1729" a Merry Christmas.

The number 1729 is sometimes referred to as the "Ramanujan-Hardy" number. One day Hardy took a cab to visit Ramanujan and commented that his taxicab number, 1729, was dull. Ramanujan quickly replied that 1729 was in fact a very interesting number since it is the smallest number that can be written as the sum of two cubes in two different ways, as 9^3 + 10^3 and 1^3 + 12^3.

Slide 5

The number 1729 also appears in many episodes of

Slide 6

and as the reference number of the universe populated by "bobble head" characters in the episode "The Farnsworth Parabox."

Slide 7

In an interview with Tom for frontwheeldrive.com, Executive Producer and head writer David Cohen said that they try to put in as much science as possible with the hope of making die-hard fans out of those that appreciate it. David Cohen has a bachelor's in physics from Harvard and a master's in computer science from Berkeley. He co-wrote a paper on the problem of sorting burnt pancakes, which appeared in discrete applications of math.

Slide 8

The sum of two cubes comes up again in the episode "a Lesser of Two Evils." You'll see this joke and then you'll hear first Matt Groening and then David Cohen talk about it.

If you were listening carefully, David Cohen actually gave a hint to help you with the calculations. I'll leave that as a challenge problem.

David Cohen also
mentioned Jeff Westbrook, who received his PhD in computer science
from Princeton. His doctoral thesis was on
Algorithms and Data Structures for Dynamic Graphs. He was
a professor at Yale and also worked at
AT&T labs before writing for
*Futurama*. He and Ken Keeler
also published an article in discrete applications.

There is another mathematician on staff. Steward Burns has a bachelor's in math from Harvard. His senior thesis was on the structure of group algebras and he has a master's in math from Berkeley.

Slide 9

In this episode written by Burns, Fry is confronted with the fact that even though he briefly attended college in the 20th century, this is only the equivalent of being a high school dropout by 30th century academic standards. In the hopes of becoming a Mars University dropout, he begins enrolling in some courses.

Later on Professor Farnsworth is seen teaching to an empty room as Fry arrives late to class.

Slide 10

Supersymmetric string theory is a branch of mathematical physics but the duper is listed for comic effect. Ed Witten is famous for his discoveries in mathematics using observations from physics. He even won mathematics highest award, the Fields medal. The diagram of the dog is similar to a string scattering diagram, a string theory analogue of a Feynman diagram, representing particles combining or decaying. However, instead of the dog-shaped diagram in the picture, string theorists typically look at diagrams that resemble a pair of pants, or two pairs of pants sewn together at the waist. "Witten's Dog" is a parady of "Schroedinger's Cat," a famous paradox in quantum physics.

Fry is clearly in over his head and is certainly on his way to achieving his goal of becoming a college dropout.

Slide 11

Here's an amusing reference to Escher's 1953 Relativity when Fry and Bender look for an apartment.

Thanks to the cleverness and mathematical backgrounds of these
writers, *Futurama* can be especially fun to watch.
And David Cohen was correct in my case. Researching math in
*Futurama* did make a die-hard fan out of me.

But, if you think the fun is over and we've revealed all the clever jokes
*Futurama*
has, think again. It is left as an exercise for you to tune into the
show and find others. Sadly, Fox has decided not to order any
new episodes. This leaves fans with the option of enjoying the show through
the DVD boxed sets or watching re-runs on the Cartoon Network
Monday through Thursday at 11pm or 2am. Those viewers who do take the time
to tune in will find their brains and funny bones richly rewarded.

Thank you.

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