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Baking Babylonian cuneiform tablets in gingerbread

The MathsJam conference has a baking competition. My friend the archaeologist Stephen O’Brien tweeted a while ago a link to a fun blog post ‘Edible Archaeology: Gingerbread Cuneiform Tablets‘. Babylonian tablets are among the earliest written evidence of mathematics that we have, and were produced by pressing a stylus into wet clay.

So it was that I realised I could enter some Babylonian-style tablets made from gingerbread.

I made a gingerbread reconstruction of a particular tablet, YBC 7289, which Bill Casselman calls “one of the very oldest mathematical diagrams extant“. Bill writes about the notation on the tablet and explains how it shows an approximation for the square root of two. I’m sure I didn’t copy the notation well, because I am just copying marks rather than understanding what I’m writing. I also tried to copy the lines and damage to the tablet. Anyway, here is my effort:

Babylonian tablet in gingerbread

In addition, I used the rest of the dough to make some cuneiform biscuits. I tried to copy characters from Plimpton 322, a Babylonian tablet thought to contain a list of Pythagorean triples. Again, Bill Casselman has some interesting information on Plimpton 322.

Babylonian cuneiform biscuits

Below, I try to give a description of my method.

The competition I entered into the first MathsJam Competition Competition

A couple of weekends ago was the big MathsJam gathering (I might call it a recreational maths conference, but this is discouraged). Two of the delightful sideshows, alongside an excellent series of talks, were the competitions. The Baking Competition is fairly straightforward, with prizes for “best flavour, best presentation, and best maths”:

The first will reward a well-made, delicious item; the second will reward the item which has been decorated the most beautifully and looks most like what it’s supposed to be; and the third will reward the most ingenious mathematical theming.

You can view the entries from this year on the MathsJam website.

Review: Cakes, Custard and Category Theory by Eugenia Cheng


We’ve often mentioned category theorist and occasional media-equation-provider Eugenia Cheng on the site, and she’s now produced a book, Cakes, Custard and Category Theory, which we thought we’d review. In a stupid way.

How I Wish I Could Celebrate Pi

People with an interest in date coincidences are probably already getting themselves slightly over-excited about the fact that this month will include what can only be described as Ultimate π Day. That is, on 14th March 2015, written under certain circumstances by some people as 3/14/15, we’ll be celebrating the closest that the date can conceivably get to the exact value of π (in that format).

Of course, sensible people would take this as an excuse to have a party, so here’s my top $\tau$ recommendations for having a π party on π day.