For 25 seasons, The Simpsons writers have been smuggling math onto Americans' TV screens. Author Simon Singh helps Ira decode the show's numberplay, while former Simpsons writer David X. Cohen remembers how he helped Homer solve Fermat's Last Theorem (sort of).
In 2008, Congress passed a law requiring most rail networks to install "positive train control" collision technology by 2015. Engineering professor Christopher Barkan discusses train safety systems, how "positive train control" might prevent accidents, and whether railroads will be able to meet the deadline.
Drawing from research presented at this year's Acoustical Society of America conference, psycholinguist Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel untangles tongue twisters to look at speech planning patterns, and professor Amalia Arvaniti discusses the "Valley Girl" dialect.
In "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us," a 26,000-word investigative piece in TIME magazine, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill catalogues the myriad reasons for America's skyrocketing healthcare costs, from extravagantly paid administrators at nonprofit hospitals to bloated bills for hospital care. And Obamacare, he argues, won't do much to solve the problem.
This week China launched its Chang'e-3 lunar lander, with the Jade Rabbit moon rover on board. BBC science editor David Shukman, who got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of China's secretive space program during a recent trip there, talks about the motivations behind the country's moonshot.
Sondheim (left) wrote the lyrics for West Side Story; classical-music superstar Leonard Bernstein (center) was the composer, Jerome Robbins the director and choreographer. The story of the show's genesis is told in the special NPR series 50 Years of West Side Story.
The films of Joel and Ethan Coen pose a challenge: How do we reconcile their wildly disparate tones? Consider O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a burlesque of Homer's Odyssey centering on three stumblebums — but with a soundtrack assembled by T Bone Burnett of heartfelt historical gospel and country music. Ditto The Ladykillers: venal idiot characters, soaring African-American spirituals. The ridiculous and the sublime sit side by side, with no spillover.