A few weeks ago, we asked you to write some mathematical poetry – π-ku, which are a bit like Haiku but instead of the structure 5-7-5, they use the more classical 3-1-4 format (and it doesn’t just have to be syllables – valid π-ku can also use 3, 1 and 4 words on each line, if you prefer).
You responded in large quantities – across Twitter and email, we received over 100 entries, from fun ditties to serious, beautiful poems. Since none of us here at the Aperiodical are particularly well-versed (pun intended) in poetry, we consulted maths/poetry aficionado and special guest judge JoAnne Growney, who runs a blog collating mathematical poems over at Poetry With Mathematics.
The Alan Turing Cryptography Competition, now in its 7th year, is an online competition run by the University of Manchester School of Mathematics, for school students up to year 11 or equivalent. Cryptographic puzzles are released every couple of weeks and teams of up to four compete to solve the puzzles, with prizes for the fastest and other randomly selected correct entries. Registrations are open now, and the competition starts on 28th January 2019.
For sixth form pupils, there is also MathsBombe – an online competition, with two mathematical puzzles released every fortnight. The puzzles are not directly related to the A-Level syllabus but will require students to use their problem-solving skills.
Ten days ago we posted a cryptogram puzzle, set by mathematician and author Josh Holden. We’ve had a number of entries, some which were so enthusiastic they ignored that we’d said to email them in and tried to post in the comments. However, from the correctly submitted entries, we had one stand-out winner – a quick reply, with a detailed description of the solution and a worthy recipient of a copy of The Mathematics of Secrets. Here’s Josh’s explanation of the puzzle, for anyone who hasn’t cracked it yet.
Author and mathematician Josh Holden has come up with a nice puzzle — so we’re posting it as a competition. If you think you can decrypt the message below, send in the decrypted message and a one- or two-sentence description of the mathematical principle behind the encryption key to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first correct entry received will win a copy of Josh’s book, The Mathematics of Secrets.
The technical name for the “cryptograms” found in many newspapers and magazines is monoalphabetic monographic substitution ciphers — monographic meaning that they make substitutions one letter at a time and monoalphabetic meaning that the substitution rule is the same every time a given letter appears in the message.
Most often the easiest way to start solving these is to look at one-letter words which are usually “I” or “a”, then two-letter words, etc. If the breaks between the words are removed, then you might use the fact that in a typical English text the letter “e” will occur about 13% of the time, followed by “t” and “a” at 7-8% and others farther behind.
What then should we make of the following cryptogram?
The letter “Q” appears almost 20% of the time, followed by “F” at about 10%, and “Y” and “T” at about 8%. The original text is English (in fact it’s from a famous work of children’s literature) and it doesn’t have a particularly odd distribution of letters. Can you decrypt the message? For bonus points, can you figure out what is mathematically interesting about the encryption key?
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.
The Royal Statistical Society is seeking nominations for the best statistic of 2017 – they’re looking for the “statistics that you think really capture the year so far”. The nomination form (docx) can be downloaded from their website, and their criteria include that it should be accurate, coherent and not misleading, and that it should have a public interest dimension (but it doesn’t need to have already had media attention).
The judging panel is chaired by Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter and includes journalists, statisticians, economists and pollsters. The winning statistic will be unveiled in December.