Haruhi Suzumiya fans are known for their obsessive dedication to the series. Fans constantly debate the “correct” watch order, the merits of The Endless Eight arc, and if Suzumiya is actually a terrible person.
You can now add “esteemed mathematicians” to their grab-bag of adjectives.
Robin Houston is a computer scientist and mathematician who inadvertently set off a wave of Haruhi-mania within the science community.
A curious situation. The best known lower bound for the minimal length of superpermutations was proved by an anonymous user of a wiki mainly devoted to anime. https://t.co/z3wVAcUJl1
— Robin Houston (@robinhouston) October 23, 2018
In 2011, a Haruhi Suzumiya fan asked the 4chan anime community to figure out the most efficient way to watch every episode of the series. Haruhi Suzumiya is a non-linear series that features time travel, which adds unique perspectives to similar scenes within certain episodes. So, how can one watch the entire series to get every bit of plot info in one, unique experience?
A 4chan user shared a mathematical formula, claiming that it could theoretically solve the Haruhi question. In the process, that same user accidentally solved a puzzle that has baffled mathematicians since 1993.
In math, a set of numbers is called a permutation. In layman’s terms, watching the 14-episodes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in their broadcast order is a permutation. A superpermutation is watching those same 14-episodes in a different order until you reach the final unique order to watch the series.
The anime’s time travel element adds a unique aspect — you can rewatch multiple episodes since time travel scenes theoretically add a new element each time. Basically, watching episodes 1 – 2 – 1 – 3 is unique from 1 – 2 – 3.
In 1993, mathematicians believed that the superpermutation conundrum was solved until Houston debunked it in 2014. He discovered that the 1993 formula didn’t work for sets containing more than six numbers, which led to renewed interest. Mathematicians hit a wall until Houston stumbled upon that Haruhi Suzumiya post.
Now, mathematicians are working to figure out an applicable formula using information proposed by Greg Egan and a Haruhi Suzumiya superfan. Houston told The Verge, “It might be possible to crack the thing completely open.”
Oh, and if you’re wondering, you’d need to watch 93,924,230,411 episodes for the most efficient Haruhi Suzumiya experience. Jay Pantone, a mathematician from Marquette University figured that one out.