Before The Simpsons first debuted on December 17, 1989, series creator aired what’s known as shorts on the The Tracey Ullman Show two years prior. Following a successful three-season run, The Simpsons was developed into a primetime, half-hour show on Fox. It was an immediate hit for Fox.
With its recent renewal into 2017, The Simpsons’ extraordinary run on television will total 28 years with the possibility of even more to come. With that sort of longevity, you’d be forgiven for forgetting some of the finer details of the show.
But with a production and writing crew who are probably the most over-educated writing staff in television, numerous obscure facts, details, and easter eggs have been inserted into the show with so much subtlety that you’ve probably missed more Simpsons details than you’ve actually caught.
Here are 12 well-hidden details and easter eggs that have been hidden in the show over years, but somehow have been missed by most fans.
12. Waldo Has Been Hiding In Springfield
One occasional running gag that comes up every now and again involves Homer and the Where’s Waldo books. The gag is basically Homer really sucks at finding Waldo and he grows increasingly (and hilariously) frustrated before giving up. But had Homer opened his eyes properly, he would’ve realized that Waldo has been apparently hiding in Springfield this whole time.
Waldo first appeared in ‘Bart’s Comet’ as one of the many Springfield folk who squeeze themselves into Flanders’ bomb shelter. Had Homer had a peek over his left shoulder, he would’ve found Waldo just nonchalantly chilling with the folks of Springfield.
Homer had a second chance to finally catch Waldo during the episode ‘Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder’. But fittingly, Homer gets preoccupied with a Where’s Waldo scene on a cereal box (which he fails at) just as Waldo casually walks past Homer’s kitchen window.
11. References To A113 Come Up Everywhere
The Simpsons writers have made a habit of referencing and joking about anything from pop-culture that they find interesting right down to tiny inside jokes that only a few select people will get. Of all the many running jokes that appear on the show, the A113 gag is probably one of the more obscure long-running ones the writers have done.
The gag first appeared during ‘Krusty Gets Busted’ when the number is seen on Krusty’s prison uniform. The number comes up again as Sideshow Bob’s prison number and as Bart’s mugshot number. The number even makes an appearance in the newer HD episodes when it is seen on Chief Wiggum’s license plate. The number A113 isn’t some code or GPS coordinate or some sort of password.
Rather, A113 is actually the room number workshop at the California Institute of the Arts where many Simpsons mainstays studied.
10. Maggie’s Scanner Price Isn’t Just A Bunch Of Random Numbers
Everyone knows the famous opening sequence gag featuring Bart and his chalkboard, Homer and his plutonium bar, Lisa and her sax, and Maggie getting scanned at the supermarket. Just like the funny stuff on Bart’s chalk board and the different tunes played by Lisa every week, eagle-eyed views may have noticed that when Maggie is scanned, a few numbers come up. Well as it turns out, these numbers aren’t just randomly selected to fill in space.
During the classic era of the show, Maggie was scanned for $847.63. As it turns out, this was the average cost for raising a baby in America back in 1989 (when the show debuted). The scanner price was changed a couple of times throughout the show’s run to accommodate other jokes such as reading NRA4EVER in ‘The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular’ as a reference to the joke that the show’s creators are right-wing radicals, and reading 666 during the ‘Treehouse of Horror XXIV.’
This little meta joke was altered (along with everything else) when the show switched from SD to HD. As a reflection of how the costs of raising a baby have changed over time, Marge’s groceries now total $243.36 which then doubles to $486.52 when Maggie goes through her customary scan.
9. Clues Pinpointing Maggie As Mr. Burns’ Shooter
During the peak of the classic Simpsons era, the writers wanted to do a mystery story that could work as a publicity stunt whilst drawing in incredible amounts of attention. After taking inspiration from the J.R. Ewing shooting cliffhanger on Dallas, the writers came up with the great ‘Who Shot Mr. Burns?’ two-parter. Whilst the final reveal of Mr Burns’ shooter was incredibly unexpected (it was Maggie), there were actually a number of subtle clues, hints, and red herrings about the culprit that were sprinkled throughout part one.
When Mr. Burns collapses on the sundial, his arms point at the W and S but from his angle the W looks like an M. Mr Burns talks about stealing candy from a baby. Many of the suspects have the letters M,S, or W in their names. When Homer goes to vandalize Mr. Burns’ office, he passes in front of a few words that spell out ‘no’ and an arrow pointing to hi.; Moe’s Tavern was playing ‘Pardon My Zinger’, a show that Smithers never misses. And finally, Mr. Burns’ gun is gone when he collapses on that sundial.
A contest devoted to the mystery was held and despite all the hints, no one managed to guess who the shooter was. Moral of any murder story, always suspect the baby.
8. There Are References To Futurama Before It Even Existed
When The Simpsons was at its peak in the mid-90’s and the only thing Matt Groening had to do on the show was cash in his cheques, he decided to do something a bit more constructive instead. Teaming up with Simpsons producer, David X. Cohen, the two came up with Futurama. But whilst it took until 1999 for Futurama to finally air, The Simpsons decided to drop in a few references to its sister show years beforehand.
During the season 10 episode ‘Mayored to the Mob’ which aired in 1998, Uter is seen wearing a Futurama T-shirt. In the Treehouse of Horror episode for that same season, David X. Cohen’s name in the credits was changed to an unsubtle David ‘Watch Futurama’ Cohen.
You might say that these references were only a year out, but there was one little nugget that was dropped back in 1993 when one of the Simpsons’ writers had a brief cameo and a single line. That line was “I’m gonna do what I’ve always dreamed of. I’m gonna write that sitcom about that sassy robot.” That sassy robot of course went on to become none other than Bender.
Since Futurama has been cancelled (again) and The Simpsons is still going strong, maybe The Simpsons could do the whole Futurama reference thing again and get Fry and his band back on TV?
7. Simpsons Staff Pop Up In Background Cameos
When you spend your days writing and animating for a show that millions watch every week, it’s hard not to insert a cameo of yourself into the show. Well that’s exactly what most of the writers and producers of The Simpsons did and most of these cameos have generally gone unnoticed.
Aside from having his initials drawn into the side of Homer’s head, Matt Groening has showed up at least a dozen other times in background shots as a seat filler. Other cameos feature prominent behind the scenes people you may not even know about. During the Itchy & Scratchy & Poochy episode in season 8, the showrunners for the season made cameos as writers on the Itchy & Scratchy show whilst the showrunner for season 10, Mike Scully, decided to have his Simpsons avatar get chased by a rhino.
The cameos get even more meta as a number of main cast members have made appearances as themselves alongside their characters such as when Dan Castellaneta (Homer’s voice) played himself. But the most famous Simpsons’ staff cameo has to be the quick-fire appearance of John Swatzwelder as a mental hospital patient in ‘Hurricane Neddy’. Known as a legendary recluse who refuses any kind of media attention, it was the other writers who actually inserted Swatzwelder into the episode more as a in-joke than anything else. We’re not saying it’s a factor, but it might be one of the reasons why Swatzwelder refuses to do any DVD commentaries for the show.
6. There Have Been Secret Superstar Cameos
One of the most popular tricks in The Simpsons’ toolbox is their frequent use of celebrity guest stars and cameos. It’s a win-win-win scenario: the show’s writers and producers get to mingle with celebrities, the celebrities are always keen to appear on the show because they’re almost always massive fans, and audiences get to enjoy their favorite actor and actress getting up to zany antics with the Simpson family. Whilst you may recall some memorable appearances from big name superstars such as Paul McCartney and, there have been a few superstar appearances that were kept under wraps from almost everyone.
In the second season episode ‘Lisa’s Substitute’, Mr. Bergstrom was voiced by some guy named Sam Etic. As it turns out, Sam Etic was in fact none other than Dustin Hoffman. At the time, Hoffman’s film career was going strong and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be associated with a TV show, therefore he decided to use a pseudonym instead. But Hoffman’s appearance pales in comparison to the appearance of John Jay Smith as Leon Kompowsky in the season three episode ‘Stark Raving Dad’.
If you’re not sure who John Jay Smith is, you’ll probably know him by his more well-known name of Michael Jackson. Whilst the producers and actors enjoyed their time working with Jackson, legal issues and Jackson’s personal request for anonymity meant that a pseudonym had to be used. After going through all that hassle, the producers have since stipulated to all celebrity guest stars that their real name had to be credited if they want to appear on the show.
5. It Took 8 Episodes To Pay Off A Tiny Joke About Moe
Unlike most serialized TV shows these days, The Simpsons is one of the few shows that eschews serialized story-telling in favor of episodic self-contained stories. With the expectation that every week will reset the status quo, continuity isn’t something that Simpsons fans actively seek out. That’s a bit of a shame as when the Simpsons do occasionally do gags with long set ups, the pay-offs are awesome.
During ‘The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons’, Apu is drinking away his sorrow when a visual gag of Moe ordering a mail-order bride is thrown in. This is pretty funny in of itself but if you were paying attention, Moe’s mail-order bride is directly referenced eight episodes later when Homer nonchalantly asks Moe how’s life with his new bride. As for Moe’s answer? “Not well would be putting it nicely.”
But one of the show’s best (and slightly morbid) gags took nearly seven seasons for the pay-off. As you recall, Frank ‘Grimey’ Grimes was driven nuts by his hate for Homer before dying in season 8. Well during season 15, Homer was throwing one of his tantrums before kicking over a tombstone. Take a guess whose tombstone it belonged to? Poor Grimey.
4. Famous Classical Photos Are Frequently Recreated
Parodying and satirizing pop-culture has been the bread and butter of The Simpsons ever since it started. However, the show doesn’t limit itself to homages to stuff in music, movies, and TV. There have been numerous references to famous historical photographs throughout the show’s run and the pay-off has been well worth it due to how accurate these homages are and how well the producers have managed to sneak them past most of the viewing audience.
In ‘Lisa the Beauty Queen’, the Duff Blimp crashed by Barney looked eerily similar to the famous Hindenburg disaster in 1937 whilst Lisa’s swearing-in ceremony is strikingly similar to when Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President right down to the facial expressions and clothing choices; ‘D’oh-in In The Wind’ parodied the famous photo of the canoodling couple at Woodstock (with an appearance from Abe Simpson); the B-Sharps’ debut album cover was clearly a rip-off of the Abbey Road album cover; and of course there’s ‘New Kids on the Blecch’ where Bart and his friends planted a long pole on the beach that was reminiscent of the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima.
3. Maths Problems Hidden Throughout The Show
It was previously mentioned that many of the Simpsons’ staff liked slipping in ‘A113’ as a reference to their time at Cal Art. Well, some of the writers liked to do the same joke as well, only instead of sneaking in room numbers, extremely complex math problems were used instead. The crazy thing is that all the math examples make sense.
There’s Homer writing down Fermat’s Last Theorem in ‘The Wizard of Evergreen Terrence’; ‘Marge and Homer Turn a Couple Play’ featured a perfect number, a narcissistic number, and a Mersenne prime number as part of a joke; the Springfield movie theatre is called the Googolplex, which is a short way of referring to the incredibly large 10100; and there’s a boast from Professor Frink that was hidden in hexidecimal numbers in ‘Treehouse of Horror VI’.
The reason for all this math stuff is that despite writing jokes for a living, many of the Simpsons writers are actually incredibly smart math geeks who come from Harvard. So if you’re someone with a useless math degree, there’s still hope for you yet.
2. God And Jesus Are Animated Differently Compared To All Other Characters
One of the most noticeable characteristics of every single Simpsons character, aside from the color of their skin, is that they all have only four fingers on each hand and only four toes on each foot. Well, everyone except for God and Jesus, who are the only characters on the show that have five digits on their hands and feet. Some fans explain this away as a simple animation error or that it is a way to differentiate divine beings from the normal Simpsons’ characters.
However, a second fan theory digs deep into mathematics for its explanation. Basically, the Simpsons universe occupies the same decimal universe as real life where 10 is the root number. That root number stems from early man counting on his fingers, which kind of makes no sense for the four-digit Simpsons characters. However, it does make sense for God and Jesus and their five digit limbs, thus signifying their divine presence on the show.
Yeah, some fans actually thought about this one for far too long. Given how a good portion of the Simpsons writing staff have studied mathematics at Harvard, we’re going to go with that second theory simply because it’s as good of an explanation as any.
1. Paul McCartney Slipped A Hidden Lentil Soup Recipe In The Credits
‘Lisa The Vegetarian’ was a memorable episode for a number of reasons. Homer had a barbecue, there was a flying pig, Lisa became a permanent vegetarian, Paul and Linda McCartney dropped by for a quick appearance, and there was a hidden lentil soup recipe in the credits.
Wait, what was that last one?
Well if you may recall, McCartney drops in a throwaway joke of “If you play ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ backwards, you’ll hear a recipe for a really ripping lentil soup.” The producers thought it would be funny to actually pay-off the joke whilst also referencing all the rumors that there were secret cult verses if you played The Beatles’ songs backwards. McCartney thought the gag was hilarious and was more than happy to oblige. For that episode only, a modified version of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is played during closing credits of that episode and if you played the credits backwards, you’ll actually get a lentil soup recipe read out by McCartney (which is up on Youtube for all those curious).
So not only was a former Beatle responsible for a permanent change in Lisa’s character, but now you know he likes a good lentil soup just like the rest of us.