Simon Singh at Hay Festival Winter Weekend in Wales

Simon Singh at Hay Festival Winter Weekend in Wales

There are two reasons in particular why I am looking forward to visiting Hay on Wye and talking about “The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets”. First of all, the book was launched in Springfield. Not some town in America, but in Springfield… near Caerphilly.

Second, the most common mathematical term mentioned in “The Simpsons” is π (pi), and this number was invented in Wales. To be accurate, the concept was invented elsewhere, but the name was coined by William Jones from Anglesey (1669-1745). Jones, along with many others, earned his living by offering tutorials in London’s coffee houses in exchange for a penny. While he was plying his trade at these so-called Penny Universities, he was also working on a major treatise titled A New Introduction to the Mathematics, and this was the first book to employ the Greek letter π in the context of discussing the geometry of circles. Jones chose π because it is the initial letter of the Greek word pεριφ ρεια (periphereia), meaning circumference.

Thanks to Jones, mathematicians with a warped sense of humour have been able to create all sorts of jokes based on the word pi. Indeed, the writers of ” The Simpsons” (many of whom have mathematical backgrounds) included a pi pun in “Simple Simpson” (2004). In this episode, Homer disguises himself as a superhero named Simple Simon, Your Friendly Neighborhood Pie Man, and punishes evildoers by flinging pies in their faces. The Pie Man’s first act of superheroism is to deliver retribution to someone who bullies Lisa. This is witnessed by a character named Drederick Tatum, Springfield’s famous ex-boxer, who proclaims: “We all know ‘πr2‘, but today ‘pie are justice’. I welcome it.”