Today, author Simon Singh took part in a Twitter-based webchat for the BBC News website, taking questions about his new book on Maths in the Simpsons, and mathematics in general. Here’s how it all went down.

# You're reading: Posts By Katie Steckles

### More Or Less integer sequence solution revealed (spoilers!)

Radio 4 maths police *More or Less *took time off from calling out journalists and deputy prime ministers for their misuse of statistics this series to sneak a hidden maths puzzle into their show. The first five episodes were “brought to us by” the numbers, respectively, **1**, **49**, **100**, **784** and **1444**. Listeners were invited to work out what number would bring us the final episode.

### Integer sequence puzzle in More or Less

More or Less, the BBC’s maths and statistics radio show, has been sneakily doing a puzzle on us for the last few weeks. The episodes in the series so far have each been ‘brought to you’, Sesame Street-style, by a different number. But what will the final episode be? Can you crack the integer code and solve the puzzle?

The puzzle was announced in the programme broadcast on the 27th of September; you can listen to it on the Radio 4 site or as a podcast (the puzzle bit is at 27:05). If you think you’ve solved the riddle, email More or Less through their website.

The episodes so far have been brought to you by the numbers 1, 49, 100, 784 and 1444. (It’s not in the OEIS; we’ve checked). You can find out if you’re right when the final episode in the series goes out, on BBC Radio 4 at 4.30pm on Friday 4th October.

### More information

### How to Win at Pointless

For the benefit of overseas readers, or British readers in full-time employment, I should briefly explain the concept of daytime TV quiz phenomenon Pointless. The pinnacle of British public service broadcasting, it’s shown at 5.15pm every weekday on BBC One and is hosted by Alexander Armstrong of comedy double-act Armstrong & Miller, and Richard Osman of comedy double-act Armstrong & Osman. We shall investigate how we can use maths to analyse the show, improve our chances of winning it, and ultimately perhaps improve the show itself.

The aim of the game is in each round to give the most obscure correct answer to a given question. Each question ($Q$) has a large set of valid answers $A_Q$, questions perhaps asking contestants to name “Films starring Bruce Willis” or “Countries without an O in their name”. All the questions have been asked to 100 members of the public prior to the quiz (call this set $P$), and they each have 100 seconds to name as many examples as they can (giving rise to a set $A_p\subseteq A_Q$ for each $p\in P$. The contestant gets a point for every one of the 100 people who named their answer $a$:

\[ \mbox{score}(a) = \begin{cases}

| \{p\in P : a\in A_p \} | & \mbox{if}\ a\in A_Q \\

100 & \mbox{if}\ a\not\in A_Q.

\end{cases} \]

So an obvious answer like Die Hard or France will score a lot of points, and an obscure answer like Striking Distance or Central African Republic will score fewer points. Points are bad (hence the title) so it’s better to dredge up an obscure answer than stick with something safe. However an incorrect answer like Avatar or Mexico scores the maximum 100 points. At the end of the round the contestant with the most points is eliminated.

### ‘Of little practical value’?

As the heady excitement of the dawn of a forty-eight-Mersenne-prime world dims to a subdued, albeit slightly less factorable, normality, I have taken the opportunity to see what we can learn about the British press’s attitude and ability when it comes to the reporting of big numbers ending in a 1.

Overseas readers may not be aware that the UK’s public service broadcaster, the BBC, is funded by a mandatory annual £145.50 tax on all television-owning households. Therefore, it would be disappointing if some of these funds were not channeled into reporting the discovery in at least five or six separately-produced broadcasts across the organisation’s various radio and television outlets.

### Carnival of Mathematics 94

Welcome to the 94th Carnival of Mathematics! This month the carnival has once again trundled in to Blackboard Bold at the Aperiodical, though this time with myself rather than Katie at the helm (carnivals have helms).

### More and Less

I’m currently reading The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford, presenter of Radio 4 maths show More or Less. It’s very good, but one thing is stopping me from giving it an unqualified recommendation: it’s full of passages like this:

[T]he government spends three hundred dollars per person (five times less than the British government and seven times less than the American government)

Because of its lousy education system, Cameroon is perhaps twice as poor as it could be.

The poorest tenth of the population spends almost seven times less on fuel than the richest tenth, as a percentage of their much smaller income.