Today is the launch of the Kickstarter for 21X, a new card game from board game studio Naylor Games, which describes itself as ‘the Countdown numbers game meets blackjack’. The creators sent us a copy to play with, and I took it along to Manchester MathsJam for a road test. (Read on for info about how you can win a copy!)

## You're reading: Columns

### Announcing The Finite Group

“Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a place where maths people could hang out and create cool maths things?” This idea was put to me a couple of years ago, and has stuck with me. It does sound nice.

Fast forward to 2023, and social media is collapsing. Some people have chosen a direction and are marching off towards Mastodon, Bluesky, Threads, or a number of other platforms. Some people are trying to keep up with multiple of these, but feeling spread too thin and wondering if it’s worth the effort (ask me how I know!). But many people are taking the opportunity to step back and think again. People are rethinking whether they want to conduct their online social lives in public. There is a surge in private communities, things like WhatsApp groups, Slack channels and Discord rooms. These have the advantage that you aren’t part of the ‘engagement’-driven content push, but they have disadvantages too – you have to know the right people to get into the group.

Meanwhile, *wouldn’t* it be nice if there was a place where maths people could hang out and create cool maths things?

So we’re creating it. We’re calling it **The Finite Group** (who doesn’t love a punny maths name?). “We” is Katie Steckles, Sophie Maclean, Matthew Scroggs and me. It’s going to be a maths community that gets together to share and create cool maths things, that supports creators to do their work within the group and on the wider internet.

### Carnival of Mathematics 219

The next issue of the Carnival of Mathematics, rounding up blog posts from the month of August 2023, is now online at Reflections and Tangents.

The Carnival rounds up maths blog posts from all over the internet, including some from our own Aperiodical. See our Carnival of Mathematics page for more information.

### Mathematical modelling and sustainability

I was interviewed by Nira Chamberlain, President of the Mathematical Association. I am the twelfth person to whom he has asked his question “what is the point of mathematics?” Hoping to offer something a little different, I spoke about teaching students the role mathematical modelling can play in sustainability.

### 1. Patterns

Martin Gardner’s long-running column in *Scientific American* made it onto the front cover of the magazine twelve times. Gathering 4 Gardner refers to these cover stories as “A Gardner’s Dozen“, while pointing out that these aren’t his ‘greatest hits’ and the magazine artists didn’t necessarily reproduce the graphics as he would have liked them.

Nevertheless, I thought it would be a fun challenge to try to reproduce these in TikZ, a drawing package for LaTeX. I like TikZ, and appreciate a chance to practice my skills. Readers of the future will be able to judge how many of the dozen I produced, and how regularly I did these.

The first I chose is the cover from November 1969. Last summer I had the pleasure of visiting Scarthin Books in Cromford, Derbyshire while walking along the Derwent with my son. Inside I found a small pile of old copies of *Scientific American* and thought it would be nice to own a copy with an original Martin Gardner article. Naturally, I chose the issue they had where his article provided the cover image.

### A visit to The Mathematikum in Giessen

My son and I visited The Mathematikum in Giessen. This is well worth a visit, we did it as a day trip by train from holiday in Frankfurt, which worked well because the museum is close to the railway station. The Mathematikum specialises in ‘hands on, minds on’ interactive activities, and we spent about 5 hours exploring the four floors. I enjoyed the open-access article The Mathematikum in Giessen by Martin Buhmann, who was kind enough to meet us and show us around.

There are some Mathematikum-made exhibits at MathsCity Leeds. I took some pictures of exhibits we had enjoyed that aren’t (to the best of my memory) available in Leeds. Here they are, in no particular order.

### Review: Andrew Pontzen’s The Universe in a Box

*We asked guest author Elliott Baxby to take a look at Andrew Pontzen’s latest book, The Universe in a Box: A New Cosmic History.*

Ever since I became interested in mathematics, I have always wanted to learn more about science. I love mathematics, and I can easily spend most of the day reading about it and solving complex equations. The maths books I’m familiar with take the reader up a ladder – they can build foundations of knowledge in one chapter and apply that knowledge to the next. Science books that I have picked up before always seem to do the opposite – after reading the first page, I am always left confused and demotivated to carry on.

The Universe In a Box by Andrew Pontzen breaks this theme. The book takes us on a journey through how scientists’ knowledge of the cosmos has developed over the years, with a strong theme around how simulations have helped shape this progress. The chapters offer detailed explanations of key aspects, theories and phenomena of astrophysics.

I particularly liked the chapters on dark matter and dark energy, as these ideas are ultimately fascinating. Dark matter, which we haven’t been able to see, shows evidence of its functionality within the cosmos and the creation of galaxies; the book also considers the notion that dark energy will eventually tear our universe apart and lead it to its end.

Black holes are also well explained – they have always been something of interest to me, and learning more about them has only made me love them more. A massive source of energy that can suck everything in its path – the power they posses is truly scary. Even more so knowing that every large galaxy has a super massive black hole at its centre… including our own. The chapter goes on to explore how simulations can escape singularities by joining black holes up using wormholes. This scientific thinking and how these tricks can be applied to simulations, like using sub-grid rules, is inspired.

The final chapter is unnerving but interesting. Pontzen talks us through this idea of the ‘simulation hypothesis’. The hypothesis that we actually are living in a simulation created by higher beings or creatures. The argument for this is quite something, and to truly get a sense of the argument, one has to keep an open mind. However, such absurdities have been seen before – the idea of the known universe would not long ago have been considered as blasphemy. Still, I’m not sure I can get behind this idea of simulated reality. The idea of parallel universes was also explored in this book, and is another one I find interesting – perhaps these two ideas could go hand in hand.

Overall, this book was an engaging, informative and a thought provocative read. There were some chapters that I did not enjoy as much, including the chapter on Quantum Mechanics and Cosmic Origins. The chapter was really well explained and very interesting, but there were moments that I had to reread or search up meanings. This was also a theme through other parts of the book – this is not down to the lack of clarity in Pontzen’s explanations, but rather a limitation in my own scientific knowledge.

This book is a must-have for anyone who wants to learn more about the cosmos and its origins, and historical context about the advancement of science and scientific theories. The writing style is accessible and easy to digest. High-school students and above should be able to enjoy this book.

To conclude, this was a pleasant surprise compared to other science books I have read. I look forward to further publications by Andrew Pontzen.