- Futurama had an educated audience with smarter humor than most animated series at the time due to its writer’s room being staffed with people with Ph.Ds and Master’s degrees.
- Writer Ken Keeler created a mathematical theorem for the show, showcasing its scientific involvement.
- The show includes numerous references to scientific concepts like quantum mechanics, taxicab numbers, and interstellar masses.
There are many jokes in Futurama that are difficult to understand without a scientific background. The show caters to an educated audience, with smarter humor than was typical of an early 21st century animated series. Futurama also once boasted one of the most educated writers’ rooms in history, with the staff holding three Ph.Ds and seven Master’s degrees.
Futurama is also notable as the only television series in history to inspire the creation of a unique mathematical theorem. Writer Ken Keeler, who holds a Ph.D in applied mathematics, created the theorem for his episode “The Prisoner of Benda,” in which several characters swap bodies using a machine that couldn’t reverse the process. Beyond being an example of the many obscure Easter eggs in Futurama, this also shows how scientifically involved the show can be.
10 The Quantum Finish
The Planet Express crew goes to a horse racing track in one of the best Futurama episodes: season 3’s “The Luck of the Fryrish.” The first race is so close that it has to be settled with an electron microscope analyzing the race footage. When the winner is declared and his horse loses, Professor Hubert Farnsworth angrily declares, “No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it!” This is a reference to the observer effect of quantum mechanics, which states that the measurements of certain systems cannot be made without altering the system. A prime example of this is how light particles only behave as waves when they are being watched.
9 Bender’s Processor
A look inside Bender the robot’s head in the season 1 Futurama episode “Fry and the Slurm Factory” reveals that his hardware is based on some surprisingly archaic technology for the 31st century. The processor in Bender’s head has the number 6502. Computer experts will recognize this as the same 8-bit microprocessor created by MOS Technology in 1975, which Steve Wozniak used to build the first Apple II computer in 1977. The 6502 chip was also used in some of the earliest home computer and video game systems, including the Atari 2600, Commodore 64, and the first Nintendo Entertainment System.
8 Taxicab Numbers
1729 is the smallest known Ramanujan–Hardy number or, as they are more commonly known, Taxicab Numbers. This odd nickname comes from a conversation between two mathematicians, G. H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan, who noted that the taxi carrying Hardy had the number 1729, which is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two positive cubes. The two began referring to such digits as taxicab numbers and the name stuck as a shorthand phrase among mathematicians.
Viewers may have noticed that the number 1729 is used repeatedly throughout Futurama, but few understand the significance. Bender is identified as his mother’s 1729th son in an Xmas card in Futurama season 2, episode 4, “Xmas Story.” The ID number of Zapp Brannigan’s flagship is BP-1729. A different taxicab number, 87539319, was used as a literal taxicab number in the Futurama movie Bender’s Big Score, identifying a cab used by the variant Fry who lived for 12 years in the early 21st century.
7 Colleen’s T-Shirt
In the second of the Futurama movies, The Beast with a Billion Backs, Fry briefly dates a woman named Colleen O’Hallahan, but it doesn’t work out as she was seeking a polyandrous union with several boyfriends. At one point Colleen is seen wearing a t-shirt with a mathematical formula that sums up her romantic leanings. The upside-down A is used in calculus to mean “for all values” and x is used to signify a random value. Mixed with the heart symbol for love, the equation means “for every value of everything, I love everything.“
6 The Keeler Gap
At one point in the fourth Futurama movie, Into the Wild Green Yonder, a sign warns star pilots to “Mind the Keeler Gap.” While evoking the signs in the London Underground advising passengers to be careful of the gap between the platform and the train, the sign is also a reference to an obscure feature of the rings of Saturn. The Keeler Gap is a 26-mile wide hole in Saturn’s A-ring, which contains a small moon that orbits Saturn from within the gap. It was named in honor of 19th-century astronomer James Edward Keeler, who was one of the first scientists to extensively study Saturn.
5 Cygnus X-1
The title card for Futurama season 6, episode 10, “The Prisoner of Benda,” features the slogan “What Happens in Cygnus X-1 Stays in Cygnus X-1.” While this is clearly a play on a long-time slogan of Las Vegas, there is a special significance to the mention of Cygnus X-1 beyond it sounding like a suitably alien science-fiction destination. Cygnus X-1 is an interstellar mass discovered in 1971, which was theorized to be a black hole. This being the case, anything that travels to Cygnus X-1 would assuredly stay there, due to the intense gravity making escape impossible.
Cygnus X-1 is also the source of a rather saucy bet between legendary scientist Stephen Hawking and his colleague Kip Thorne. Reportedly, Hawking promised to buy Thorne a one-year subscription to Penthouse magazine if Cygnus X-1 was ever proven to be a black hole. It was a bet Hawking was glad to lose, however, as the evidence suggesting that Cygnus X-1 was a black hole validated much of his life’s work.
4 The Infinite Movie Theater
The preferred movie theater of the Planet Express crew is the Loew’s ℵ0-Plex in New New York. The ℵ0 symbol (pronounced “aleph-null“) is a mathematical representation of the smallest infinite number in a finite set of numbers. In other words, the Loew’s ℵ0-Plex boasts an infinite number of screens. Even with the advanced technology of Futurama that seems unlikely, and the name is probably a math joke referencing the overly impressive names that modern movie theaters give themselves, such as multiplex and omniplex.
3 A BASIC Joke
BASIC, the Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, was a computer programming language created in 1963 by John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz at Dartmouth College. Their goal was to create a simple language that anyone could use to work with computers. A sign at the entrance of Bender and Fry’s apartment in Futurama season 1, episode 3, “I, Roommate,” is written in BASIC code, delivering the message “Home Sweet Home.”
2 A Binary Threat
Futurama has made a number of jokes involving the binary programing language, which breaks down information into a series of 1s and 0s. The most famous example of this came in Futurama season 2, episode 18, “The Honking,” where Bender becomes scared after seeing a binary message written in bloody letters. The code in question, “1010011010” translates to 666, “The Number of the Beast,” which is associated with dark forces and bad luck.
1 Brainy Beers
The opening scene of Futurama season 3, episode 12, “The Route Of All Evil,” features a number of scientific jokes involving various fictional alcoholic beverages. One is Old Fortran Malt Liquor, which is named after the FORTRAN programming language. There is a brand of beer called Klein’s, which is served in uniquely shaped objects called Klein bottles, which can only exist in four dimensions. Finally, there is St. Pauli Exclusion Principle Girl, which is a play on both the beer St. Pauli Girl and the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which was devised by Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli in 1925.