Thursday, 14 August 2008

Maths at the Edinburgh Fringe

In a rather warm studio at the top of several flights of stairs sat a girl, Rachel, reading Ian Stewart’s From Here to Infinity and a man, Colwyn, strumming a rather out-of-tune guitar. This was the opening scene of the Edinburgh Fringe production of the play ‘The root of minus 1’ performed by Hartshorn-Hook Productions in association with Angel and Virgins Theatre Company.
The play unfolded into a poignant insight into this couple’s struggle to come to terms with the death of their sister / sister-in-law. The sister, Michelle, had been a budding mathematician at university but had met with a fatal accident before completing her degree. She had developed a very close and possibly intimate relationship with her lecturer, Karen, who helped Rachel and Colwyn find out more about the maths in Michelle’s life. Discussions with Karen covered a wide variety of mathematical issues: certain historical mathematics topics such as counting, infinity and the Pythagoreans and other mathematical areas such as topology, calculus and as the title suggests – imaginary numbers.
The actress playing the part of Karen also cleverly played the character Emily the counsellor who, without giving her own opinion, helped the couple to understand their own fears and feelings.
The mathematical content came over with a passion that I hope would inspire others to take more than a passing interest in the subject as well as a number of amusing insights about mathematicians. If the theatre company ever staged a production in London it would make a great trip for maths students – I would enjoy seeing it again.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Friday, 1 August 2008

How many socks make a pair?

Rob Eastaway book coverLast night I was at the launch party for Rob Eastaway's new book, How many socks make a pair? Like Rob's previous books, including Why do buses come in threes? and How long is a piece of string?, this presents interesting mathematics from everyday life. It contains a number of gems. I was pleased to learn the name of Penney Ante, which I came across as a scholboy wihtout ever knowing its origins, and to discover the Saddam Puzzle.
"The Football Stadium" puzzle asks whether, if 101 metres of bunting is laid along a 100-metre touchline, pinned to each corner spot, is there enough play to allow someone to pass underneath the bunting at the centre line? The answer is surprisingly counter-intuitive (well, counter-my-intuition, anyway).
Strongly recommended!