Futurama Math
Sum of Two Cubes Activity Sheet

Ken Keeler has a PhD in applied math from Harvard. When he was finishing up, there were very few jobs, so he applied to both academic and TV writing jobs. After a year at Bell Labs, he decided to try TV writing. In a gotfuturama.com (CGEF) interview, when he was asked about his many years at school, Ken Keeler joked that a Futurama reference to 1729 was worth six years of grad school:

Ken Keeler: ...I felt like if I didn't try writing now, I'd regret it the rest of my life. So after a year at Bell Labs, I went to Letterman. I've regretted it the rest of my life.
CGEF: Did it ever pay off to go through all these years of education?
Ken Keeler: Well, sure. For example, Bender's serial number is 1729, a historically significant integer to mathematicians everywhere; that "joke" alone is worth six years of grad school, I'd say.

Keeler refers to the episode Xmas Story [2ACV04] written by David X. Cohen in which Bender the robot receives a card from the machine that built him wishing "Son #1729" a Merry Christmas. Answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper.

Question 1 Use an effective web search to find out what Ken Keeler means when he says that 1729 is "a historically significant integer to mathematicians everywhere." Your answer should include information about the mathematicians Ramanujan and Hardy and a calculation statement about the number 1729.

Question 2 Verify that the related computation statement holds, but do not prove that it is the smallest such number. Show work. Next discuss a general proof method or technique one could use to show that 1729 is the smallest such number but do not prove the statement.

Ken Keeler says that, "We didn't have the agenda of putting a mathematical reference in there, other than that we needed a number for plot reasons. We could have picked one at random, but there was no reason not to make it an interesting one, and that's how many of these references found their way in." The number 1729 also appears in many episodes of Futurama on the hull of the space ship called the Nimbus and as the reference number of the universe populated by "bobble head" characters in the episode The Farnsworth Parabox [4ACV15].

Question 3 Search the web to find recent results about the sum of two cubes (within the last five years) and summarize what you found.

Dr. Sarah J. Greenwald

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