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Start There Are No Idiots In Springfield
09 August 2016

There Are No Idiots In Springfield

Estimated reading time Time 3 to read

Could you write the next term of the sequence? No offence, but this sequence is sometimes referred to as the “idiot’s sequence” and it’s one of the most popular and well-known logical puzzles. Much less known, however, is its origin.

Everything indicates that it first appeared in 1998 in an episode of The Simpsons called “Lisa the Simpson”. In his highly recommended book “The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets”, the British popular science writer Simon Singh relates the story like this:

“The story starts in the school cafeteria, where Lisa sits opposite Martin Prince, who is perhaps Springfield’s most gifted young mathematician.

In the cafeteria, Martin becomes interested in Lisa’s lunch, which is not the usual cafeteria food, but rather a vacuum-packed space-themed meal. When Lisa holds up the lunch, Martin spots a puzzle on the back of the packet. The challenge is to find the next symbol in this sequence:

Martin solves the puzzle in the blink of an eye, but Lisa remains perplexed. She gradually becomes more and more frustrated as students sitting nearby, including Bart, say that they can identify the next symbol in the sequence. It seems that everyone can work out the answer…except Lisa.

The “definitive” proof that this sequence originated on The Simpsons is a sketch made by David S. Cohen, physicist, mathematician and writer of the series:

Along with the final version of the problem, in the sketch appear two attempts that at that time were discarded and that we have recovered here to pose as a game or puzzle. And we’ve also added a “similar” sequence, created specifically for this occasion:


By Miguel Barral for Ventana al Conocimiento

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