With a writers room containing three PhDs, seven master’s degrees, and over 50 cumulative years at Harvard, it’s no surprise that there are some smart jokes on Futurama. In fact, some are smarter than we are! Thankfully, over the show’s 14-year run, it never failed to remain accessible.
One of the great things about Futurama is that it works on so many levels. Whether you’re a fan of complex mathematical theorems and references, or you just want to watch Bender drink and steal things, there’s always something to enjoy.
But for the really esoteric stuff, it definitely helps if you have a doctorate in physics or mathematics. Not to mention a lightning fast pause button! This list will help explain those jokes, and save you some serious student loan debt, so keep reading to see some of Futurama‘s smartest jokes.
Bender Has Less Processing Power Than Your Phone
When Bender gets an X-ray during “Fry and the Slurm Factory,” viewers are treated to a look inside the foul-mouthed robot’s head. There, we can see that Bender uses a processor labeled “6502.” As computer scientists are well aware, the 6502 microprocessor was the same model Steve Wozniak used for the Apple II in 1977. Perhaps that lack of computational power explains some of Bender’s more questionable decisions.
Mind The (Keeler) Gap
Featured in the TV movie (or Episode 4 of Season 6, as it was styled after the show was picked up again) “Into The Wild Green Yonder,” this quick sight gag tests viewers knowledge of astronomy.
A sign on the rings of Saturn reads “Mind The Keeler Gap,” a reference both to the famous “Mind The Gap” warning of the London tube system and the real-life Keeler Gap, a 42-kilometer wide gap in the A Ring of Saturn named in honor of James Edward Keeler.
1729 Is A Magic Number
The number 1729 shows up in Futurama too many times to be a coincidence. As seen in “Xmas Story” from a holiday card, we know that Bender is Mom’s 1729th son. In “The Farnsworth Parabox,” Fry visits Universe 1729, and 1729 happens to be the registration number of The Nimbus, Zap Brannigan’s ship.
So, then, why does this number keep cropping up? It’s actually known in mathematics circles as the Hardy-Ramanujan number. Apparently, when British mathematician G. H. Hardy once rode to visit his friend (and fellow mathematician) Srinivasa Ramanujan. He remarked that the cab he took there had been a dull number (1729) to which Ramanujan replied that it was, in fact, an interesting number. 1729 is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways. Comedy!
A Sneaky Vonnegut Reference
This joke is so fast, you can be forgiven for missing it. Seen in the episode “War is the H-Word,” a quick establishing shot of a 7-11 establishes that it’s open for 28 hours a day, the poverty of the cashier, and most interestingly offers a promotion for a free bag of Ice-9 with the purchase of a six-pack.
Ice-nine is a literary reference to Kurt Vonnegut’s fourth novel Cat’s Cradle. In the book, ice-nine is a crystalline substance capable of changing all the water in the world to an non-potable ice-like material. The fact that such a devastating material would be available for free at a convenience store showcases Futurama’s absurdity at its finest.
Futurama Invents A Mathematical Theorem
Ken Keeler invented a real mathematical theorem in order to explain the body switching featured in “The Prisoner of Benda.” Keeler, in addition to writing for Futurama, holds a PhD in Applied Mathematics. Apparently, he included the joke to help popularize mathematics among young fans of the show.
The Quantum Finish
Officials use an electron microscope to determine the winner of a horse race in “The Luck of the Fryrish.” The officials declare the race a “quantum finish,” and Professor Farnsworth complains, “No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it!” This refers to the observer effect, a phenomenon in physics that observing quantum particles can change their position. Which means all Futuramaepisodes might be different if they were played in an empty room. Food for thought.
Colleen’s T-Shirt Equation
Colleen’s shirt features a math equation that parodies the famous “I Love NY” campaign. It basically translates to “for all X, I love X”. Or “I love everything/everyone.”
Very appropriate given the plot line featured what amounts to a planet-spanning orgy in “The Beast with a Billion Backs,” and Colleen is a polyamorous character who loves everyone.
It Really Stays There
The opening title card of “Prisoner of Benda” reads, “What happens in Cygnus X-1 stays in Cygnus X-1.” An obvious reference to “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” the joke here is that Cygnus X-1 is a black hole. So even light that gets to close will, in fact, never leave. And presumably any and all gambling.
Boogie Nights To The Third Power
In several episodes of Futurama, Bender and the crew visit Studio 1^2 2^1 3^3. This multiplies to 54, a reference to the famous Studio 54.
Seems like a great place to get down (provided you can do exponential math).
Your Movie Is In Theater 234,567,890,126,0945
The movie theater the Planet Express crew frequents features an odd symbol. Pronounced aleph-null, it is the representation of the smallest infinite cardinal number, meaning the theater has a theoretically infinite number of screens.
That’s a LOT packed in to a two second sight gag.
Crazy Strong Krazy Glue
After Zoidberg breaks the Professor’s model ship (classic Zoidberg), he tries to fix it with “Strong Force Krazy Glue.”
Strong force is one of the four basic forces in the universe (the others being weak force, gravity, and electromagnetism), and as the name implies, it’s the strongest. It holds together subatomic particles at the nuclei.
That sounds like something too powerful for almost anybody, let alone Zoidberg.
Schrödinger Gets Pulled Over
Fry and the copbot named URL capture Erwin Schrodinger, the famous physicist, in “Law and Oracle.” On the front seat of his car is a box, which Schrödinger says contains, “a cat, some poison, and a Caesium atom.” When asked if the cat is alive or dead, Schrödinger replies, “it’s in a superposition of both states until you open the box and collapse the wave function.”
This is a reference to Schrodinger’s Cat, the eponymous thought experiment from the famous physicist.
It’s All About Balance
This quick gag relies on knowledge of mechanical advantage as it relates to levers. The equation (M1)(a) = (M2)(b) is used to express a balanced lever. M1 is the mass at one end of the fulcrum, M2 is the mass at the other end, a is the distance from the fulcrum to M1, and b is the distance from the fulcrum to M2.
So therefore, the force the main building exerts must be great that the force of the annex, since the fulcrum is so close to the main building. Well, until Nibbler’s ship lands outside and ruins everything.
Beer For Nerds
A six-pack of beer labeled “St. Pauli Exclusion Principle Girl” appears in a liquor store during the episode “The Route of All Evil.” This combines the famous St. Pauli Girl beer brand with the Pauli Exclusion Principle which states that two electrons cannot have the same four quantum numbers. It’s nice to see that craft beer survives in the future.
The Cryptic Roman Catholic Crypt
The inscription on the side of this mysterious crypt might appear to be a date, but it’s actually an equation in Roman numerals. So IIXI – (XXIII * LXXXIX) is 211 – (23 * 89), which equals 1.
If we rearrange the equation, we get 211 – 1 = 2047. This is a Mersenne Prime, in which a prime number is reached through 2p – 1 where p is any prime number. The mathematical joke here is that 2047 isn’t prime, it’s the smallest number described by 2p – 1 that is not a prime number. How could we have missed that one?
The Math Problem In The Cupboard
In “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” while Fry and Amy (or Framy) are in a storage closet, we see two books labeled P and NP, respectively. This refers to an unsolved mathematical problem in computer science described as “whether every problem whose solution can be quickly verified by a computer can also be quickly solved by a computer.”
Basically, the notion that such an idea could be compressed in two slim volumes is ludicrous.
Bonus: There is also a can of “Condensed Milt” on the shelf. Milt refers to the sexual organs of male fish and mollusks when they are full of sperm. Probably wouldn’t be as good in pound cake.
All Robots Go To Hell
“Hell is Other Robots” is a first season episode of Futurama. This title is a play on a line from Jean-Paul Sartre’s one act play, No Exit, while the episode itself borrows from the structure of Dante’s Divine Comedy, particularly the “Inferno,” as Bender descends the levels of Robot Hell.
Of course, the episode isn’t all highbrow literary allusion, as the climax features a golden fiddle battle a la, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”.