# Or “how maths can increase the dramatic tension of Reality TV competitions”.

SUGGESTED LEVEL: UPPER SECONDARY

Below is a hierarchy of increasingly dramatic (and mathematically complicated) systems for a reality TV competition such as “Britain’s Got Talent” or “Strictly Come Dancing” to announce their competition winner. Just one rule is needed for creating each system of announcements from the previous one: in mathematics this concept is referred to as **RECURSION**.

**RECURSIVE STEP: to create the next level, we replace each single announcement of the previous level with a set of announcements of all the other contestants!**

Confused? Let’s see how this would work in practice:

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# WHY DO HEXAGONS OCCUR NATURALLY IN NATURE?

This is **Giants Causeway** on the North Coast of Northern Ireland, famed around the world for its awe-inspiring **hexagonal **stone plinths. Incredibly, the stones are built not by a genius mathematician or engineer but by **mother nature**. In this article I’ll explain how it is that nature can afford us such a beautiful display.

The plinths here are in fact igneous **basalt columns**, created when molten lava comes up from inside the earth and cools. As the rock cools it contracts, and this changing shape means that as it solidifies the rock must crack to release the pressure (similar to the way that an ice cube warms, contracts and cracks when you put it into your drink).

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__WHAT’S INTERESTING ABOUT THE NUMBER $2$?__

**TWO **is the only even prime number, and the number of Ronnies in the famous duo. It’s the sides on a digon (two-sided shape such as the panels of a juggling ball), and it’s what it takes to tango. It’s a dual, a duel, a duo and a twin. Two has two **homophones**: ‘to’ and another one ‘too’.

Here are a **couple** of **pairs** of **deuces**:

**CONTINUED FRACTIONS:** consider this fraction:

# $\frac{2}{2+\frac{2}{2+\frac{2}{2+…}}}$

If we continue the process indefinitely, what answer do we get? The answer is $-1+\sqrt 3$ (which is **irrational** i.e. cannot be written as a integer fraction !). To see this, call the continued fraction $x$ and observe that $\frac{2}{2+x}$ gives the same continued fraction as the original $x$. Now rearrange $\frac{2}{2+x}=x$ and solve the resulting quadratic (degree TWO) equation.

What number would this continued fraction give? $\frac{3}{3+\frac{3}{3+…}}$

**TWO** is the wheels on a **bi**cycle, the ends of a **di**ameter or a **di**agonal, and two is a duplicitous timer. We need two co-ordinates to find our place on a map in flatland; even at sea on a sphere just two numbers – **latitude** and **longitude **– tell us where we are. Not only the Earth’s surface but any plane in fact has two ‘**dimensions**‘ (a curve has one and a point zero dimensions).

The number two is in a sense indifferent to **ADDITION**, **MULTIPLICATION **and **EXPONENTIATION**, since 2 plus 2 = 2 times 2 = 2^2; swap three for two and it’s no longer true.

$2+2=2\times 2=2^2$

**BINARY CODES: **these are codes made of two ingredients, such as Braille (raised and flush), Morse (dots and dashes), Bar Codes (black and white stripes), QR codes (black and white squares) and of course Base two (0’s and 1’s).

**HERE’S A DILEMMA:** there are of course TWO answers to this “missing word” puzzle: can you find them both?

Read all about NUMBER ONE: we like you too;

Number two: we salute you!

### WHAT’S INTERESTING ABOUT THE NUMBER ONE?

**ONE **is the only number that’s the same in binary, base 10 and Roman Numerals.

It’s the wheels on a **uni**cycle, the rails on a **mono**rail and the players when you go **solo**.

One is the first **odd **number, the first **triangular, square, pentagonal **and **hexagonal **number, and the first **tetrahedral**, **cube** and **Fibonacci **number.

It’s the only whole number whose letters O-N-E are in reverse **alphabetical order** (but which is the only whole number whose letters are in forward alphabetical order?).

One is the only positive **integer **(whole number) which is neither **prime **(exactly two factors: one and itself) nor **composite **(more than two factors).

**NORMAL ARITHMETIC:**

The number one is used to make up all the other integers:

1=1

2=1+1

3=1+1+1 etc

**AXIOMATIC SET THEORY (von Neumann ordinals) :**

The number zero is used to make up all the other integers:

0=∅={} (the empty set)

1= {Ø}={0}

2={Ø, {Ø}}={0,{0}}

3={Ø,{Ø},{Ø, {Ø}}}={0,{0},{0,{0}}} etc

Axiomatic set theory started in the early 1900’s as an attempt to place mathematics on a firm logical footing free of paradoxes. For further reading, search Wikipedia for Russell’s Paradox, Cantor’s theorem, cardinal numbers, ordinal numbers, put aside about a month of reading time and get ready for an incredible ride!

Which definition of the integers do you prefer: using ones or zeroes?

One is gender-neutral: **one is so pleased you are reading one’s post**!

So. number one, we salute you: you are singularly unique and one of a kind. A big hand for NUMBER ONE!

__WHAT’S THE POINT OF LOGARITHMS?__

On meeting this adorable litter of ten Dalmation Puppies the other day, I quickly spotted (ahem) the need for **Dogarithms **– the canine equivalent of logarithms. The conversation with dog breeder Maxine went something like this:

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**FATHER: “How did you do on your maths test?”**

**JANE: “I did better than average, but then so did most of the class”**

Jane’s statement seem ridiculous – how can *most* people be better than average? Using some mathematical trickery, here’s how she could be logically correct.

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# $x$ is the ideal letter to represent the unknown simply because the other letters are so busy doing other things! To demonstrate, here is a small (not exhaustive) collection of mathematical measures, physical quantities and units, using all upper and lowercase letters a to Z (with just two blanks – can you fill them?). Some will be familiar to primary School students; most if not all will be familiar by the end of an A-level mathematics course. Why not see if you can create your own algebra alphabet of mathematical letters first, before reading mine? Good luck!

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## Don’t get me wrong: History, Spanish, Music and Drama are all great – even Latin (well, maybe Latin…). All learning is good: studying helps to keep your brain fit in the same way that exercise keeps your body fit, and a good range of both general and specialist knowledge enriches our lives hugely. But trigonometry and quadratic equations transcend Oxbow Lakes, Adverbial Clauses and Post-modernist art because only mathematics has these five extra qualities that make it the indisputable top of the pile!

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## This is the story of rotations, reflections and enlargements and translations. It’s about an ingenious shape that lives in millions of households yet that few people have even heard of. And it’s the story of how some simple maths – GCSE transformations and a little geometry – led to a revolution in photography. This is the story of the Roof Pentaprism: a simple yet beautiful solid shape at the heart of every DSLR camera (that’s the posh ones!).

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__HOW CAN I MAKE MATHS FUN?__

## House Of Maths was recently interviewed on the radio about the new GCSE and “real life” maths problems. But while making maths relevant IS important, “keeping it real” doesn’t automatically make maths fun – especially if your teacher is more like Miss Trunchbull than Miss Honey. Instead, here are the six ACTUAL secrets of turning maths from boring to brilliant:

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