Eight Easy Pieces (you can touch but don’t look)

Here’s a bar bet you can’t lose. Actually, it’s more of a kitchen bet, being a quiche cutting conundrum.

You’ve just bought a lovely fresh haggis quiche at your local Minus 4 shop and are planning to eat it in one sitting, in your kitchen with a friend. You’ve agreed to share it in the fairest possible way: one of you cuts and the other choses. The quiche is in the usual circular shape.


A coin is tossed—rather unnecessarily, it must be said—and it is determined that your friend gets to cut. You step out of the kitchen for a moment and upon your return discover to your horror that your friend has already done the cutting, but not as you had expected. Instead of making one simple straight cut as close to a diameter as possible, the big oaf has made four straight cuts.

Bread & Kisses

bread and kisses

Bread & Kisses is a short film by Katherine Fitzgerald about a mathematician who discovers love – I know, I know, you’ve heard this one before – but it also contains a mathematician who moves to the Alps to get more skiing in, so it’s the most realistic film about mathematicians ever. It also features the emotion of love in a star turn as an epsilon term.

Although it contains the line, “you forgot the most important ingredient: love”, so don’t get your hopes too high.

Apiological: mathematical speculations about bees (Part 3: Travelling Salesman)

This is part 3 of a three-part series of mathematical speculations about bees. Part 1 looked at honeycomb geometry, and part 2 looked at how bees estimate nest volumes.

The sight of bumblebees roaming around British gardens, foraging for nectar, is common and comforting. The movement of these fuzzy bees between flowers and plants can often seem deliberate yet erratic. Charles Darwin was intrigued by “humble-bee” routines, and observed them with the assistance of his six children, but always regretted not attaching strands of cotton wool to the bees so he could follow them more easily.

Within the last decade there has been renewed interest from a number of collaborating researchers into studying bumblebees’ movement between flowers and their foraging techniques. The prevailing journalistic spin on this research seems to be ‘Bees solve the Travelling Salesman Problem – a problem that mathematicians and computers cannot solve’. This is unfortunate, not least because it is gleefully misleading, confusing various meanings of ‘solve’, but also it obscures a lot of the fascinating underlying scientific investigations.

A geometrical approximation for π

If you were paying very close attention last week, you’ll have noticed my attempt to come up with an estimate of π, geometrically, as part of The Aperiodical’s π Day challenge (even if it’s not really π Day):