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Second place in a single-elimination tournament

Trophy for Joint 2nd Place, awarded to "???"

I made a silly joke, and it made me think.

You may be aware that our own Christian Lawson-Perfect is running the Big Internet Math-Off here at the Aperiodical, a single-elimination tournament with sixteen competitors. I was knocked out in round one by the brilliant Alison Kiddle. I joked that if Alison went on to win, then I’d be joint second.

I’ve been mulling this over and I felt there was something there in thinking about the placement of the non-winners in such a tournament, so I had a play.

Are there More or Less stars than grains of beach sand?

This week’s episode of More or Less on the BBC World Service answered a question that involved estimating big numbers: Are there more stars than grains of beach sand?

This claim was famously made by Carl Sagan in the seminal programme Cosmos.

The cosmos is rich beyond measure. The number of stars in the universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth.

More or Less come to a fairly standard answer, that Sagan was correct. This sort of problem, which involves approximating unknowable numbers based on a series of estimates, is called a Fermi problem. I’ve written about Fermi problems here before. The More or Less approach to answering this raised a question from a reader of this blog.

Alright, actually Paul is one of the writers of this blog, rather than a reader. Even so, are his concerns warranted?

Carnival of Mathematics 159

The next issue of the Carnival of Mathematics, rounding up blog posts from the month of June, and compiled by Kartik, is now online at Comfortably Numbered.

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.

A chat with the creator of Number Drop

Screenshot of Number Drop game, showing a standard game board in playNumber Drop is a mobile app maths game we came across recently, and have taken the opportunity to have a chat with its creator, Ben. NumberDrop is available for on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

My cat isn’t psychic – but your pet could be!

Do you remember Paul the Octopus? During the 2010 World Cup, in what his Wikipedia page calls “divinations”, Paul was offered boxes of food labelled with different competitors. Whichever box he ate from first was considered his prediction for the match, with some success.

Yesterday morning, my son and I did something similar with our cat, Tabby. This is in response to Matt Parker’s latest initiative, Psychic Pets. Matt is hoping to get thousands of pet owners to make predictions, in order that the odds are good a pet can be found which predicted all prior results for both teams in the final. The good news is it’s fairly straightforward to take part.

Carnival of Mathematics 158

Carnival of Mathematics LogoThis is the 158th Carnival of Mathematics, a monthly round-up of interesting maths bits from across the internet. Convention dictates that I now therefore specify some interesting facts about the number 158. Unfortunately I am writing this on a train with no internet access, which will make fulfilling this obligation more than usually challenging.

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