Stupid-looking maths question does the rounds, isn’t stupid

You may by now have seen the image below knocking around on Twitter and other social medias, in which a maths question appears to be almost a parody of itself:

Text: An orchestra of 120 players takes 40 minutes to play Beethoven's 9th Symphony. How long would it take for 60 players to play the Symphony? Let P be the number of players and T the time playing.

The text reads:

An orchestra of 120 players takes 40 minutes to play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. How long would it take for 60 players to play the Symphony? Let P be the number of players and T the time playing.

Well, once you’re done laughing, we’ve done some investigative journalism and found the origin of this question. And it turns out it’s quite nice!

The question is from a worksheet developed by maths teacher Claire Longmoor (who is, based on current evidence, brilliant) ten years ago. Claire put together a selection of example questions with relationships in direct and inverse proportion, and deliberately included the orchestra question as an example of something where it doesn’t work that way. It’s a nice activity to help reinforce the difference, and in context the question works nicely.

Other examples on the sheet include a bricklaying example with creditably diverse gender representation, a car with terrifyingly low fuel efficiency, good cow names and a delightful insight into the bygone world of fruit picking.

Ritangle student maths competition open now

Ritangle, a maths competition aimed at A-level and equivalent maths students in the UK, is open for registration. The first set of preliminary questions has already been released, but the main competition starts on 9th November and there’s still time to register a team.

Comprising 21 questions over 21 days, the competition requires no maths beyond A-level and the winning teams gets a hamper and a trophy.

Ritangle website

The Sound of Proof

The Sound of Proof screenshot

Marcus du Sautoy has tweeted about a mathematics and music project he’s involved in, called The Sound of Proof. Five classical proofs from Euclid’s Elements have been interpreted by composer Jamie Perera into musical pieces, and they’ve put together an app/game to see if you can work out which one corresponds to which.

They’ll be announcing the results at an event as part of Manchester Science Festival in October. The project is a collaboration with PRiSM, the research arm of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

The Sound of Proof, at RNCM PRiSM

2017 London Mathematical Society Popular Lectures now online

The London Mathematical Society Popular Lectures present exciting topics in mathematics and its applications to a wide audience. The 2017 Popular Lectures were Adventures in the 7th Dimension (Dr Jason Lotay, University College London) and The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Physics in Maths (Professor David Tong, University of Cambridge).

The Lectures are now available on the LMS’s YouTube channel, along with many of the previous years’ videos.

Petition to update UK traffic signs to use a geometrically plausible football

Terrible signage (photo: The Independent)

Aperiodipal and number ninja, Stand-up Mathematician Matt Parker, has set up a petition on the UK parliament petitions website to change the awful, awful tourist board official symbol for a football ground (US readers: imagine I’m saying ‘soccer stadium’). In Matt’s words:

The football shown on UK street signs (for football grounds) is made entirely of hexagons. But it is mathematically impossible to construct a ball using only hexagons. Changing this to the correct pattern of hexagons and pentagons would help raise public awareness and appreciation of geometry.

Matt holding a football and pointing at the offending signTo end this madness, Matt needs 10,000 signatures for the petition to be responded to by the government (and 100,000 for it to considered for debate in parliament). It’s currently around the 3,000 mark – so it’s plausible that he might do it. It’s also had coverage in The Independent already, and Matt’s YouTube video on the campaign already has over 100,000 views.

To sign, you simply need to be a British citizen or UK resident, and fill in your details on the site (you’ll need a valid postcode). Ban this hexagonal filth!

Update the UK Traffic Signs Regulations to a geometrically correct football, on UK Parliament Petitions

Progress on billiard table problem

Quanta Magazine reports progress on what its headline calls the “Infinite Pool-Table Problem”. The problem is explained in the article as follows:

Strike a billiard ball on a frictionless table with no pockets so that it never stops bouncing off the table walls. If you returned years later, what would you find? Would the ball have settled into some repeating orbit, like a planet circling the sun, or would it be continually tracing new paths in a ceaseless exploration of its felt-covered plane?

The article describes progress on the problem via study of ‘optimal’ billiard tables, “shapes whose particular angles make it possible to understand every billiard path that could occur within them”.

More information

New Shapes Solve Infinite Pool-Table Problem, Quanta Magazine.

via @ColintheMathmo on Twitter.

Blogs from this year’s Heidelberg Laureate Forum

Heidelberg Castle selfie

Paul and I have spent this week blogging from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, an international event for PhD/postdoc students and top-level maths and computer science researchers.

It was a long week of extravagant dinners, incredible talks and press conferences, (maths) celeb spotting, branded conference freebies, hilarious quotes and exceptional hospitality. Oh, and blogging. Here’s a round-up of what we wrote, in case you’ve missed it this week, as well as some of the other posts the rest of the HLF blog team wrote.