Homer Simpson’s Proof

The Simpsons aired an episode in the late ’90’s called the “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace.” In it,  Homer Simpson seems to solve a notoriously impossible to solve equation known as Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Pretty cool, right? Well, as this NPR article describes it, Homer only comes close: “… while he seems to triumph, Homer’s solution is what mathematicians call “a near miss” — a fancy way of saying “D’oh!” It doesn’t quite work.”

Where does Homer go wrong? Well, first let’s talk a little more about Fermat’s Last Theorem. The theorem states that no three positive integers a, b and c can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn when n is an integer greater than 2. And yet, Homer’s numbers, which are positive integers greater than 2, actually seem to work. On the blackboard, you can see the numbers 3,98712+4,36512=4,47212. This is an apparently viable solution.

Take a look at the screenshot:

simpsons equation

But, according to Numberphile this is only true at first glance. As Simon Singh, a British physicist and author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, explains in the following video, Homer’s answer, many decimal points down the line, doesn’t balance out even though it nearly does.

It’s a really interesting video. Singh, who actually interviewed the Simpsons writing staff to write his book, attributes Homer’s math skills to the writers on The Simpsons’ staff, many of whom it turns out are trained mathematicians. Who knew?

We hope you enjoyed this post. It’s pretty interesting stuff mostly because who doesn’t love learning important things from the Simpsons?

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About the author

Seattle CPA+John Huddleston has written extensively on tax related subjects of interest to small business owners. Since 2002, he has owned his own small business, Huddleston Tax CPAs. He is a graduate of Washington State University and the University of Washington School of Law.

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