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  • AI and maths to play bigger role in global diplomacy, says expert
    by Hannah Devlin Science correspondent on October 15, 2021 at 11:13 am

    Professor of negotiation and conflict management says recent advances mean techniques will be used moreInternational diplomacy has traditionally relied on bargaining power, covert channels of communication and personal chemistry between leaders. But a new era is upon us in which the dispassionate insights of AI algorithms and mathematical techniques such as game theory will play a growing role in deals struck between nations, according to the co-founder of the world’s first centre for science in diplomacy.Michael Ambühl, a professor of negotiation and conflict management and former chief Swiss-EU negotiator, said recent advances in AI and machine learning mean that these technologies now have a meaningful part to play in international diplomacy, including at the Cop26 summit starting later this month and in post-Brexit deals on trade and immigration. Continue reading…

  • Did you solve it? Another game of brutal genius from South Korea
    by Alex Bellos on October 4, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    The solutions to today’s puzzlesEarlier today I set you the following puzzles, designed by the South Korean puzzle master Han Dongkyu. The first two are a slow build up to what is one of the most fiendishly brilliant geometrical puzzles I have ever seen.If you want a print out of the puzzles, click here. Continue reading…

  • Can you solve it? Another game of brutal genius from South Korea
    by Alex Bellos on October 4, 2021 at 6:10 am

    Will you make the cut?UPDATE: The solution can be seen here.Today’s three challenges are from Han Dongkyu, a talented young puzzle designer from South Korea. The first two will warm you up for the third, which is probably the most stunning example of a dissection puzzle I have ever seen. Prepare to be awed – and have your brain twisted inside out.1. Librarian’s Nightmare Part I Continue reading…

  • Mathematicians discover music really can be infectious – like a virus
    by Linda Geddes Science correspondent on September 22, 2021 at 6:01 am

    New music download patterns appear to closely resemble epidemic curves for infectious disease, study finds Pop music is often described as catchy, but it seems you really can infect friends with your music taste. The pattern of music downloads after their release appears to closely resemble epidemic curves for infectious disease – and electronica appears to be the most infectious genre of all.Dora Rosati, lead author of the study and former graduate in maths and statistics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada along with colleagues, wondered whether they could learn anything about how songs become popular using mathematical tools that are more usually applied to study the spread of infectious diseases. Continue reading…

  • Did you solve it? Russia’s Prime Minister sets a geometry puzzle
    by Alex Bellos on September 20, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    The answer to today’s teaserEarlier today I set you the following puzzle, which was a challenge Russia’s Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, gave to a class of Russian sixth formers earlier this month.Construct a perpendicular from the (red) point on the circle to the diameter, without using any measuring devices. Continue reading…

  • Can you solve it? Russia’s Prime Minister sets a geometry puzzle
    by Alex Bellos on September 20, 2021 at 6:10 am

    The ruler with a rulerUpdate: The solution can now be read hereEarlier this month, Russia’s Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, marked the first day of the school year by visiting a sixth form maths class at one of his country’s top science-oriented schools.The class was studying a problem about business. “Why do you guys need to do business projects in [school]?” he asked. “Fundamental knowledge is needed here, right?” Continue reading…

  • Algebra: the maths working to solve the UK’s supply chain crisis
    by Michael Brooks on September 12, 2021 at 12:00 pm

    The calculations behind filling supermarket shelves are dizzyingly complex – but it all starts with the x and y you know from schoolNando’s put it succinctly on its Twitter feed last month: “The UK supply chain is having a bit of a mare right now.” Getting things on to supermarket shelves, through your letterbox or into a restaurant kitchen has certainly become problematic of late. It’s hard to know exactly where to pin the blame, though Covid and Brexit have surely played a part. What we can do is give thanks for algebra, because things would be so much worse without it.It’s likely that you have mixed feelings about algebra. Even if you could knuckle down and manage it in school, you probably wondered why it was important to solve an equation involving x raised to the power of 2 or why you should want to find a and b when a + b = 3 and 2a – b = 12. You might even feel that your scepticism has been vindicated: the chances are that you have never done algebra in your post-school life. But that doesn’t mean that the jumble of letters, numbers and missing things that we call algebra is useless. Whether it’s supermarket groceries, a new TV or a parcel from Aunt Emily, they all reach your home through some attempt to solve an equation and find the missing number. Algebra is the maths that delivers. Continue reading…

  • Did you solve it? The magic of the Borromean rings
    by Alex Bellos on September 6, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    The solution to today’s puzzleEarlier today I set the following puzzle, inspired by the Borromean rings (left), which are three interlocking loops with the property that when you remove any one of them, the other two are no longer linked. In the puzzle everything falls apart when one element is removed.Smash the picture Continue reading…

  • Can you solve it? The magic of the Borromean rings
    by Alex Bellos on September 6, 2021 at 6:14 am

    You will nail this oneUPDATE: To read the solution click hereThe image above is the Borromean rings, three interlinked rings that have the curious property that when any one of the rings is removed, the other two are no longer linked.The rings are studied by mathematicians and have long been used as a metaphor for the interdependence of three parts, since either all three are linked, or none are. (The name comes from the Borromeo family of Renaissance Italy, which had the pattern on their coat of arms.) Continue reading…

  • Did you solve it? Logical philosophers
    by Alex Bellos on August 23, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    The solutions to today’s puzzlesEarlier today I set you the following three puzzles.1. Late Wittgenstein Continue reading…

  • Can you solve it? Logical philosophers
    by Alex Bellos on August 23, 2021 at 6:21 am

    Five existentialists walk into a bar. Update: solutions can be found hereToday’s three puzzles are mini-dramas featuring well-known philosophers.1. Late Wittgenstein Continue reading…

  • ‘Devastating career event’: scientists caught out by change to Australian Research Council fine print
    by Donna Lu on August 20, 2021 at 5:41 am

    Researchers say a ban on preprint material citations in funding applications is a ‘remarkably stupid own-goal for Australian science’Get our free news app; get our morning email briefingResearchers have been deemed ineligible for critical career grants by the Australian Research Council as the result of a rule change that has been described as punitive, “extraordinary” and out of keeping with modern scientific practices. Researchers are devastated and angry after being ruled out for Australian Research Council (ARC) fellowships because of a new requirement that bans preprint material from being cited in funding applications, with several saying it spells the end of their careers in academia or Australian universities. Continue reading…

  • From A-levels to pensions, algorithms make easy targets – but they aren’t to blame | Jonathan Everett
    by Jonathan Everett on August 17, 2021 at 8:00 am

    Poor policy outcomes are not the responsibility of ‘mutant maths’, but of choices made by people in powerA year ago, when the prime minister blamed a “mutant algorithm” for A-level students receiving lower than their predicted grades, a new phrase entered political discourse. Since then, the government’s proposed housing algorithm has been labelled “mutant” by the Conservative MP Philip Hollobone; recently even the pensions triple lock was referred to as a “mutant formula” by the GB News journalist Tom Harwood.It’s worth thinking about why this wording has spread. The implication of calling an algorithm “mutant” is that technology has got out of hand and that a useful mathematical system has produced perverse outcomes when applied in the real world. But this obscures the reality, which is that people in power choose when to use algorithms, set their parameters, and oversee their commissioning process. Those developing algorithms repeatedly check they are doing what ministers want them to do. When algorithms are spoken of as “mutant” it obscures this reality, framing algorithms as outside forces that act upon us, rather than tools that can help us understand the world and make decisions.Jonathan Everett is head of policy at the Royal Statistical Society Continue reading…

  • New mathematical record: what’s the point of calculating pi?
    by Donna Lu on August 17, 2021 at 7:35 am

    The famous number has many practical uses, mathematicians say, but is it really worth the time and effort to work out its trillions of digits?Swiss researchers have spent 108 days calculating pi to a new record accuracy of 62.8tn digits.Using a computer, their approximation beat the previous world record of 50tn decimal places, and was calculated 3.5 times as quickly. It’s an impressive and time-consuming feat that prompts the question: why? Continue reading…

  • Swiss researchers calculate pi to new record of 62.8tn figures
    by AFP in Geneva on August 16, 2021 at 9:39 pm

    Supercomputer calculation took 108 days and nine hours – 3.5 times as fast as previous recordSwiss researchers have calculated the mathematical constant pi to a new world-record level of exactitude, hitting 62.8tn figures using a supercomputer.“The calculation took 108 days and nine hours,” the Graubuenden University of Applied Sciences said in a statement. Continue reading…

  • Did you solve it? Numbers in New Guinea
    by Alex Bellos on August 9, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    The answers to today’s counting conundrumEarlier today I set you the following problem about how to count in Ngkolmpu, a language spoken by about 100 people in New Guinea.Ngkolmpu does not have a base ten system like English does. In other words, it doesn’t count in tens, hundreds and thousands. Beyond its different base, however, it behaves very regularly. Continue reading…

  • Can you solve it? Numbers in New Guinea
    by Alex Bellos on August 9, 2021 at 6:10 am

    A rare way to countUPDATE: Solution can be read here.Today is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, which aims to raise awareness of issues concerning indigenous communities. Such as, for example, the survival of their languages. According to the Endangered Languages Project, more than 40 per cent of the world’s 7,000 languages are at risk of extinction.Among the fantastic diversity of the world’s languages is a diversity in counting systems. The following puzzle concerns the number words of Ngkolmpu, a language spoken by about 100 people in New Guinea. (They live in the border area between the Indonesian province of Papua and the country of Papua New Guinea.) Continue reading…

  • Did you solve it? Clueless sudoku
    by Alex Bellos on July 26, 2021 at 3:59 pm

    The solutions to today’s puzzlesEarlier today I set you three ‘clueless’ Sudoku and an ‘almost clueless’ Killer Sudoku. For discussion and tips you can read the original column here.For a printable page of all the puzzles click here. Scroll down for the solutions. Continue reading…

  • Can you solve it? Clueless sudoku
    by Alex Bellos on July 26, 2021 at 6:10 am

    Puzzles where less is moreUPDATE: Solutions now available here.Sudoku is an extremely elegant puzzle, and this crucial to its appeal. The rules are simple to understand and the grid – with given numbers usually presented in a symmetric pattern – is striking. Yet perhaps Sudoku is not elegant enough. Perhaps the numbers on the starting grid are an unforgivable blemish, a needless sullying of the page.Or so argue a group of mathematicians, who have come up with a new puzzle genre: ‘clueless Sudoku’, which are Sudoku-style puzzles with a pristine starting grid. These puzzles literally don’t have a (numerical) clue. Continue reading…

  • Did you solve it? Oxford university admissions questions
    by Alex Bellos on July 12, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    The answers to today’s logical conundrumsEarlier today I set the following three puzzles, which have all been set during Oxford university admissions interviews for joint philosophy courses. In each case, there is an initial question, which almost all candidates answer correctly. The follow-up questions are more challenging.1. Stephanie’s surprise. Continue reading…