Sport ‘mechanic of the mind’ brings Olympic expertise to firms – BBC News

Image copyright Getty Images

For someone who has delved into the minds of many top UK athletes, Prof Steve Peters takes surprisingly little interest in sport.

“The first time I met Steven Gerrard I asked him what he did,” says the psychiatrist, who has worked with both the England and Liverpool football teams.

He has also used his skills with numerous footballers including Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, as well as snooker star Ronnie O’Sullivan, and cyclists Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton.

His expertise has also been sought out by sports from taekwondo to fencing.

But away from the spotlight, many businesses too are using sport’s “mechanic of the mind” in order to get the best out of their employees.

Chimp sabotage

Prof Peters, a cherubic-looking 63-year-old, is author of the best-selling personal development book The Chimp Paradox. It explains how we can control this inner primate, an emotional creature who thinks and acts without the say-so of our more rational consciousness.

The Teessider says his mission is to help the human mind reach peak performance, whether in sport, business or everyday life.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Prof Peters has worked with top sporting names over 15 years, including cyclist Victoria Pendleton

He says that if sports organisations and firms don’t invest in emotional skills, there is a danger that employees’ inner chimp might inadvertently go into “catastrophe mode” and sabotage things in times of high stress.

“We as a team help people understand and gain insight into the way their mind works, and how they can work better in their own unique organisation, and how they can reach their own unique objectives,” he tells me.

That might not necessarily be about increasing company profits, but could be about creating a happier workforce, or one where there is less churn of staff leaving for other jobs.

‘Mind requests’

Prof Peters says that in sport and business every challenge is different.

“There is a great deal of difference between a 100m sprinter and a chess player – one looks at process, and the other is much more analytical and thinking,” he says.

“As such there would be variable requests made of the mind.

Image caption Prof Steve Peters is offering expertise from the sports world to businesses

“In business it is the same. One business might only be selling one product, and they say they will make it to certain parameters.

“But another competing business might say they want to constantly upgrade the product.”

Overcoming restraints

His firm, Chimp Management, does not go into a sport or business to “solution solve”.

Rather, it looks at what an organisation – and individuals in it – wants to achieve and looks to provide insights.

Image copyright Roland Daniells
Image caption Prof Peters’ book is read by managers in sport and business

“We listen to what they want, where they want to go, and then make suggestions,” says Prof Peters.

“We have got to see the world through their eyes, see what is restraining them, and tackle that together.

“We help them make sense of the mind and develop skills to optimise how they operate in line with their goals.”

‘More honest’

Prof Peters says in sport and business there are four criteria that can help an organisation function better:

  • understanding how the brain is structured, and differentiating between emotional and logical thinking
  • understanding how other people think, and how to get the best out of them
  • communicating effectively, and how this can help to get more out of workplace relationships
  • creating a working environment that can enhance the performance of individuals and teams
Image copyright Roland Daniells
Image caption Prof Steve Peters has been advising City firm Nicoll Curtin

One firm currently using Prof Peters’ expertise is City of London recruitment firm Nicoll Curtin, whose group chief executive James Johnson says Chimp Management is helping them create “a high-performance environment”.

Mr Johnson says not only does his workforce now “provide a better service”, but also exhibits “more honest and open behaviour” between colleagues.

Who is Steve Peters?

  • Has degrees in mathematics, medicine, and medical education (Masters level). Also postgraduate qualifications in sports medicine, education and psychiatry
  • For 12 years he was based at Rampton high-security hospital, working with individuals suffering from severe personality disorders
  • Has been with the University of Sheffield as a Senior Clinical Lecturer since 1994, and is now Undergraduate Dean of Sheffield Medical School
  • Fifteen years ago was introduced by an ex-Sheffield student to the British cycling team and in 2005 was hired as their full-time psychiatrist
  • A keen runner who has held multiple World Masters Champion Titles and records over 100m, 200m and 400m


Prof Peters hit the news in 2008 when his work with the record-breaking British cycling team at the Beijing Olympics made him a man in demand in the sports world.

As well as cycling he worked with Liverpool FC during their Premier League title challenge in 2013-14.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prof Peters has previously worked with Liverpool, including players such as Jordan Henderson

Although he is no longer personally involved at Anfield, his company has two staff members working with the club, at first team and academy level.

I wonder what he thinks of manager Jurgen Klopp’s emotional and involved touchline manner, but Prof Peters says “it is not for me to make comment, we would never tell people how to act”.

“Our job is always to give understanding, the insight into the way the mind acts, and what will help to bring wellbeing, success.”

‘Enjoying life’

One sportsperson he is happy to talk about is snooker star Ronnie O’Sullivan, who has publicly lauded the psychiatrist.

“Over the years working with him, Ronnie has realised that defining himself by winning or losing is not a good way to gauge life,” says Prof Peters.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prof Peters has helped Ronnie O’Sullivan change his outlook on life

“He might partly measure success by how many big tournaments he has won, but again, he now measures it by how much he enjoys his snooker. He now says that if he wins that is a bonus.”

Prof Peters adds: “Success is that a person has a good quality of life. If a person is in a good place that is success.”

‘Emotional skills’

The psychiatrist says that O’Sullivan has told him he would not have reached the final of the recent European Masters (which he lost to Judd Trump) “if it was not for his emotional skills”.

“He told me he had put them into effect to win a number of games during the tournament, games which he might not otherwise have won.”

As we conclude our talk, I put to him the name of another sports star in need of psychological direction – troubled Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios – and ask if he could see any solutions there.

But the name is not one he recognises.

“Who is he? As I frequently tell people, I really am not a sports fan.”

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Florian Fritsch: Other golfers cant imagine being in the sport and not flying | Ewan Murray

German undertakes epic road trips between tournaments after a bout of turbulence left him with a fear of flying and ready to give up the game

Late on Tuesday afternoon, Florian Fritsch is just to the south of Lisbon. This is a journey that began by road when his involvement in the British Masters ended, around 4.30pm on Sunday, included a voyage from Portsmouth to Bilbao and concluded at lunchtime on Thursday when the German teed off in the first round of the Portugal Masters.

There is no charity or sponsorship element to reveal here. The 30-year-olds life, that of a professional within touching distance of full European Tour status for next season, is unique because of the form it takes.

Fritsch estimates he drives 28,000 miles a year. This year he will play in 18 of the 27 events he is eligible for because they are the ones he can drive to. I average about 90kph [56mph], he says. Think about it; I probably spend a lot less time in my car than people who commute in and out of London. They are hardly moving.

As a university student in the US, Fritsch used to hop on and off planes like people take the bus but a decade ago, during a flight from Frankfurt to Turin, turbulence was to determine his future. During what he recalls as a very rocky mid-air spell, he turned to a German amateur golf coach sitting alongside him to ask what would happen if the worst-case scenario transpired. It will be very quick was the stark reply.

Fritsch says: That made me start to think more about the situation. At first it was a critical interest, then discomfort, then a little stress, then fear. I think it is a bit unfair to call it a phobia. I am afraid of a combination of circumstances, including heights. I have no problem with a rocky landing or take-off. I dont feel the same at 36,000ft.

By 2010, the situation was acute. I was sitting in Zurich airport, waiting to head to Qatar for a tournament, he says. It was too much for me to bear. I decided to go home on a train and quit golf.

Fritsch was a fortnight too late to begin the process that would have made him a teaching professional. With limited status on the Challenge Tour, and little else to occupy himself, he returned to playing. By the end of that year, he had passed through qualifying school to earn a full European Tour card.

I enjoyed it out there on my own, he says. I felt no pressure, like I had to do well to paint the picture of a perfect athlete. I was playing on my own terms. I was also actually quite mad. All my life I had been beating myself up over golf and the one year where I really didnt do anything, I earn that card. I thought: Is golf really that messed up?

During these intervening years, Fritsch meddled with a dozen therapies some of them weird and wonderful to cure his fear. A bunch of them made it worse. I went to one of these airline seminars over a weekend, where 10 people sit around in a circle. You get asked what it is you are scared of and they end up with about seven points on the board because of duplication.

I thought: The person who brought up point two? Thats valid. Why wasnt I afraid of that before? Point six, too. I went there with one fear and left with three. All that did was cost me a lot of time, stress and money.

Fritsch has not set foot on a plane since 2013. He is perfectly at peace with that, saying that being alone with ones thoughts for long spells in this age of smartphones is no bad thing. It helps that he is, by his own admission, talkative and analytical by nature.

But what do fellow golfers make of this life? A bunch of people are sceptical, he says. They cant imagine being in this profession and not flying. Others have come up to me and said: Im afraid as well. I dont want to mention anything in case it damages my image or sponsorship options. Then there are a lot of people who are simply quite interested in my story.

Fritsch is 104th on the Race to Dubai, with the top 110 guaranteed full exemption for 2017. A tie for seventh at the Dunhill Links Championship this month suddenly enhanced his claim.

It is two-sided emotion, he says. Six weeks ago I was nowhere, I didnt even have a decent standing on the Challenge Tour for next season. To be where I am now, that has definitely bumped up my mood. The other side is that pressure, you feel like you have something to lose. That burden is something I have to try to withstand.

Not that he is busy with permutations. You would need to go to university and study mathematics to work that out, Fritsch says with a laugh. Honestly, with the amount of people you have to consider, the amount of money you have to divide an unknown number of ways, then you have to concentrate on your own performance and how that may go. Youd have to be at least a university junior to produce accurate numbers. I would rather spend more time playing video games. Rankings and points systems are one good way to keep people in jobs.

Fritsch would have a long discussion with his family if the point ever came where he was eligible for the PGA Tour and had a life-changing decision to make. For now, his ambition lies in establishing himself as a consistent European Tour performer. I have other interests. People who say they will give up absolutely everything to be the best? That isnt me. I am not willing to give up my entire life.

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Seven outstanding Micro Bit projects – BBC News

Image caption Children across the UK are belatedly getting their hands on the Micro Bit computer

The Micro Bit – a small computer designed to power internet-connected projects – is being handed out to thousands of British school children.

The device has been made for Year Sevens (11-to-12-year-olds) and equivalents as part of an initiative spearheaded by the BBC.

Microsoft, Samsung, ARM and several other organisations that teach coding to youngsters are also involved.

The roll-out is happening later in the school year than originally planned.

But there is undoubtedly pent-up enthusiasm for the computer.

Unlike other budget computers – such as the Raspberry Pi – the machine is meant to be programmed via the web, rather than being connected to a keyboard and screen of its own.

Image caption The Microbit can be programmed via as website developed by Microsoft

So, what can it do?

As a standalone device it can be made to flash its LEDs in sequence and take readings from several built-in sensors, but when added to other hardware the possibilities are limitless.

Below are seven projects by some of those who got their hands on the tech early.

Sent into the stratosphere

Media captionRishworth School sent a Micro Bit into the stratosphere

The initial batch of Micro Bits were very limited in number. But that didn’t stop one school launching their copy more than 32km (20 miles) into the air.

One of the pupils at Rishworth School in West Yorkshire wrote a program that used a heat sensor to log changes in temperature and show the current reading on the computer’s LEDs. Her classmates then attached the kit to a helium balloon and let it fly upwards.

“Her code measured the temperature in the stratosphere, which is pretty awesome,” recalled the teacher in charge, Peter Bell.

“The kids were absolutely buzzing about the whole project.”

But he added that anyone thinking of repeating the initiative should not do so lightly.

“We had to get civil aviation authority approval and were given a two-hour window to launch,” he explained.

“And on its descent, it initially fell for 14 seconds travelling at up to 180mph [290km/h].

“At one point National Air Traffic Services apparently rerouted all the aircraft around Nottingham because there was essentially a missile travelling towards the airspace, but the parachute deployed when it got to an atmosphere where enough air was hitting it.”

The equipment was later recovered from a farmer’s field.

Big screen

Media caption1,009 Micro Bits and a lot of wiring were used to create the screen

Micro Bits are by design small enough to fit inside a child’s pocket. So, it seems a bit obtuse to try and turn them into a giant display board.

Even so, Kitronik – an electronics parts supplier involved in the Micro Bit initiative – posed itself the challenge using 1,009 prototypes it had been given access to.

The company’s director used Microsoft’s Touch Develop web interface to write three programs:

  • the first to hold the image data on a “master” Micro Bit and convert it into messages sent to the other computers
  • the second to determine which data should be sent to each of the 40 columns of computers arranged into the display
  • the third to pass image data from one Micro Bit to another after a brief delay so that images appeared to scroll across the screen

“I realised early on that the big challenge on this project wasn’t going to be writing the three different versions of code – though this did take a number of days – but was going to be to assemble the display,” recalled Geoff Hampson.

“Which is why we called on a team of volunteers to help wire it all up.”

A total of 230m (755ft) of wiring and 5,000 bolts were required to complete the project, which was unveiled at the Bett tech show in January.

Autism tool

Image copyright Highgate School
Image caption The pupils wanted to use the Micro Bit to help people with autism communicate with others

Six students from London’s Highgate School came up with the idea of using the Micro Bit to help people with autism recognise other people’s emotional states, as part of a one-day coding challenge earlier this year.

People with the condition can struggle to read expressions and respond appropriately as a result of the disability.

The team coded the computer so that a user could scroll through a series of graphics, shown via the LEDs, of faces presenting different moods.

When they found a match they could press another button to make the LEDs state what the image represented – for example “happy”, “sad” or “angry”.

“I think it was fantastic for these students to tackle a potentially difficult and complex issue such as disability and autism,” said Holly Margerison from the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which organised the Faraday Projects event.

“I also think this could be a great partnership activity, so students with and without autism could [further] work together on this product.

“One thing which strikes me is that the students clearly understand the place of coding in the world and understand the ways in which it can enhance and improve their lives.”

Hand-to-eye co-ordination

Media captionARM juggled three Micro Bits

ARM’s in-house Micro Bit demo is deliberately simple by design.

The chip creator – whose processor architecture is used by the mini-computer – got one of its team to juggle three of the devices and streamed data from their acceleration sensors to the internet via a Bluetooth link.

To do so, they made use of Google’s new Eddystone communication protocol and then tracked the readings – recorded at a rate of 200 times a second – via a web-based application. The information was used to create a graph tracking the rate that each of the Micro Bits sped up and slowed down.

“We can detect in a program run on the Micro Bit when it is falling, and that means we can know how long it is falling for and how high we threw it,” explained Jonny Austin, one of the engineers involved.

“So, if I am juggling very unevenly you might see that every third throw I actually don’t throw one of the Micro Bits nearly as high, and that would be represented by a much flatter peak on the graph.”

In theory, he added, it should be possible to spot patterns that could help a juggler-in-training identify problems with their technique.

Heading North

Image copyright Eastlea Community
Image caption Microsoft chief Satya Nadella saw an early version of the airship when he dropped by in November

Pupils at Eastlea Community School in London came up with the idea of using a Micro Bit to keep a small aircraft on track as it headed toward the North Pole.

The computer was programmed to trigger one of two motors whenever the vehicle drifted off course to steer it back to its destination.

“The students came up with a working proof-of-concept but the gondola that they made was a little bit too weighty,” said their teacher Steve Richards.

“Air regulations would have also been a problem.”

But, he added, the class took these issues in their stride and are now developing a Micro Bit-steered paddle steamer boat that will make use of solar and wind energy.

Mr Richards has previously taught classes using another British low-cost computer – the Raspberry Pi – but says he believes the Micro Bit is better suited for younger age groups.

“It’s been designed at a lower level that allows children to understand more quickly the concepts that you are trying to get across,” he explained.

“With the Raspberry Pi there are a lot of things that don’t make immediate sense. So, I think the Micro Bit will make a great stepping stone that engages younger children before they want to do more serious projects that would require something like the Pi.”

Racing cars

Image copyright Bloodhound Project

The Bloodhound Project – an effort to set a new land speed record of more than 1,000mph (1,609km/h) – has its own Micro Bit spin-off.

Since the start of January, hundreds of children have been invited to carve their own model cars out of foam and blast them along a track using black-powder rockets fitted to their rears.

The computers are slotted inside to measure the rocket cars’ fastest speeds, average speeds and changes in thrust. The children then use the feedback to improve their designs.

“This is something that teachers don’t normally want to do because there is a lot of risk assessment involved,” said Graeme Lawrie, one of the organisers and director of innovation at Sevenoaks school in Kent.

“But these kind of wow factors are few and far between, and it provides the children with inspiration and enthusiasm for Stem (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects.”

As if that wasn’t enough incentive to take part, the teams that make the fastest models are being promised a chance to have their names added to the fin of the actual Bloodhound supersonic car.

Machine music

Media captionThe Micro Bit is used as a kind of gesture-controlled instrument

Not all the early Micro Bit projects were targeted at children or involved coding.

Dr Rebecca Fiebrink got hold of a device to use as part of her research into computer music at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The lecturer used a program called Wekinator, which teaches a computer to recognise certain inputs and map them to different sounds.

By connecting up a Micro Bit she was able to create music by twisting, tilting and drawing shapes in front of her with the mini-computer.

“One example I made was a simple drum machine that I control using tilts,” she told the BBC.

“I can also use it to recognise gestures that I draw in the air and to create more experimental sounds.

“It’s a really exciting time right now because of the growing availability of relatively cheap-to-use sensing platforms, and the Micro Bit is a great way to get started building things.”

BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones will be doing a live Q&A about the Micro Bit on the BBC Facebook page shortly after 1330GMT.

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How To Build A Time Machine

Every now and again, we all indulge in dreams about travelling in time. Wouldnt it be wonderful to return to that specific point in the past to change a bad decision or relive an experience those halcyon days of childhood, that night you won an Oscar or to zip ahead to see how things turn out in the far future.

The mystery of time travel is full of excitement and wonder But its not science, I hear you say. You may also think that it is definitely not like any mathematics you learned at school. Well, you will be surprised to hear that it is.

At present there is a great deal of news around the discovery of gravitational waves. It is suggested that this experiment and future research could unlock the secrets of the universe. One of the reasons why physicists believe this to be true is linked to other monumental scientific discoveries in the past and the fact that we may have reached another unification moment and taken another step closer to a theory of everything.

Towards A Theory Of Everything

We have known since Isaac Newtons day that mass is inextricably linked to gravity. His unification moment was first conjectured famously while he was sitting having afternoon tea under an apple tree in Woolsthorpe, when out of the blue an apple fell on his head.

Newton: great things have modest beginnings. d_pham/flickr, CC BY

This incident made Newton think that the same force could be responsible for both the apple dropping to the ground and the moon falling towards the Earth in its orbit. He went on to show that it was true for all mass and that all bodies attract each other due to gravity. In the tabloid newspapers of the time, it was announced: We are just bodies forced to be attracted to each other by Newtons gravitational interactions and that Love is a gravitational law.

Cue: Einstein

In the early 20th century, Einstein went further with his general theory of relativity and showed that mass and gravity are linked to time; yet another unification moment.

Einstein was born in 1879, and by 1905 had published a paper that would change the way we look at the world. This paper makes a fundamental change to the way we look at light. Until then, no one had thought too much about the speed of light it was just another universal constant that experimental physicists attempted to calculate with ever greater accuracy. There was little appreciation of how radically different light waves were from sound and water waves.

Einstein: big ideas. thierry ehrmann/flickr, CC BY

But by using mathematics you learned at school Pythagoras theorem and with a little help from Einsteins time dilation formula you can show that time will slow for someone who is moving.

Einsteins theory says that if you want to slow time down essentially, to time travel you need to move fast, very fast! Imagine setting off on a mission from Earth in the year 2000, for example. You are scheduled to be away until 2032, but will be travelling at 95% the speed of light (around 285,000km a second). The amazing thing is that, on your return, your watch would tell you that it is 2010, despite it being 2032 on Earth, and youd be 22 years younger than anyone you left behind. Thats time dilation and it works at slower speeds, too, albeit to a much less profound degree.

So Lets Go

But theres a catch 285,000km a second is very, very fast. The fastest land vehicle cannot even get to 1km a second and even a spaceship when escaping Earths atmosphere is travelling at a relatively pitiful 10km a second. Even if we could reach these speeds, it is questionable whether we could survive the stress on our bodies. So time travel into the future is possible, but a bit too difficult for now. But what about the past?

I dont know about you but I always feel a bit cheated when I read articles on time travel. Im told all these facts but no one tells me how to build a time machine. So as not to cheat you, here follows a design for just such a thing, with great thanks to Professor Frank Tipler. Tipler published a paper on how to build a time machine, a Tipler Cylinder, back in 1974. This machine would enable you to travel back in time.

Batteries and a cylinder with the mass of the sun not included. NASA/SDO, CC BY

First, you need a lot of money to buy a large cylinder. When I say large, I mean very large, perhaps a 100km long. The cylinder also needs to be at least the mass of the sun, but very densely packed together. You then need to start it rotating, faster and faster, until its rotating so fast that it starts to disturb the fabric of both space and time and you would be able to detect a wash of gravity waves coming from this structure.

I also need to add a health warning, as coming close to such a dense structure would cause issues. The mass of the Earth pulls us down to its surface, but getting too close to an object this massive would be hugely dangerous it would drag you towards it and squash you flat.

If you can get round this squashing problem, however, approach the rotating cylinder and start following its spin as you get closer, strange things will start to happen. Your path, which normally inextricably moves you forward in time, changes, since moving around the cylinder in the direction of rotation will shift you back in time. The machine makes the direction of time collapse into the past, so the longer you follow the machines spin, the further back in time you will go. To reset the movement to normal, simply move away from the cylinder, go back to Earth and you will be returned to the present albeit a present in the past.

But be careful what you do there. Fiddle around with the past too much and like Marty McFly in Back To The Future you may just break up your parents first date or even ruin your chances of being born. Time can be funny like that.

Steve Humble, Mathematics Education Primary and Secondary PGCE, Newcastle University

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Meet the mathekniticians – and their amazing woolly maths creations

Married couple Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer have been knitting and crocheting mathematical images and objects fore more than two decades

In 1996 two British maths teachers active on an internet knitting forum were asked by a US yarn firm to design it an afghan.

We were sent into a panic! We had no idea what an afghan was! remembers Pat Ashforth, who with partner Steve Plummer is known in the crafts community for maths-inspired knits.

The couple soon discovered that an afghan was a knitted or crocheted blanket or throw. They produced four designs for the US firm, and it began a journey that has defined the rest of their lives.

Counting Pane: a grid of the numbers from 1 to 100. Each number cell contains the colours of the numbers from 1 to 10 that divide it, with 1 being blue, 2 being yellow, 3 red, and so on. So 12, which is divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 has the colours of blue, yellow, red, green and black. A copy of this was sold to the Science Museum. Photograph: Pat Ashforth

Ashforth and Plummer decided that the afghan was the perfect canvas for expressing mathematical ideas – and since then they have devoted much of their time to producing as many as they can.

Together they have knitted and crocheted about 90 mathematical afghans (math-ghans?). Since each afghan takes about 100 hours to complete, this means the total time spent they have spent making them is about 9,000 hours (which adds up to 375 days – more than a year). And they have also made many other mathematical objects in wool.

Square Deal: the smallest possible example of a square divided into smaller squares, where the sides of each of the squares are all whole numbers, and where no two squares are the same size. Photograph: Pat Ashforth

Ashforth and Plummer go under the name of Woolly Thoughts, and have become celebrities in the world of the mathematical crafts. Some of their afghans have even been bought by the Science Museum in London.

Double Base: A representation of binary numbers. Photograph: Pat Ashforth

The couple met while teaching at a school in Luton. By 1999 they were both working at a school in Nelson, Lancashire, where they married in 2005. Originally the afghans were hung in their classrooms. They were invaluable as a vehicle for talking about maths, says Ashforth. Large, touchable, unbreakable items were perfect for encouraging group discussion. It is much easier for everyone to be looking at the same thing than for each individual to have their own separate book.

Then the time came when there were not enough walls in their classrooms. We bought a four-storey Victorian house just for the size of its walls so we could hang things on them. Several live on a trolley that rolls out from under the bed, after Steve added pieces to make it higher.

Curve of Pursuit: Ashforth and Plummers most popular pattern. The edges of the squares represent four points that are each moving towards each other. Each point is closing in on the next point clockwise to it. Photograph: Pat Ashforth

As their profile grew in the maths community, Ashforth and Plummer have travelled widely to give demonstrations at events such as science festivals, schools and craft exhibitions.

We always tried to make sure that knitting was not seen as a female activity and Steve always knits at any event to emphasise the point, says Ashforth. We find more reluctance from women who say they cant do maths than from men who say they cant knit.

Psesudoku: A crochet version of three superimposed Sudoku patterns. Photograph: Pat Ashforth

I first got to know Ashforth when out of the blue she sent me the image above of a crocheted afghan based on a page in Snowflake Seashell Star, the maths colouring book I did with Edmund Harriss (its called Patterns of the Universe in the US). The image is of a 9×9 grid of three superimposed sudokus, where each of the digits represents a different colour. I had always felt that this image would make a great quilt – so it was nice to see it made into one! They also made a similar knitted version, below:

Pseudoku Photograph: Pat Ashforth

Not only are the images in the afghans mathematical, but the way they are made also involves mathematical thinking.

We enjoy the challenge of seeing an idea then working out how it can be made into an afghan in a way that would be easy enough for anyone else to recreate. It is like trying to solve a puzzle and refining it to give the best possible solution.

On their website if you click on any of the afghans you will be led to a page on the kniting and crochet site Ravelry, where the patterns can be bought for a small fee.

Amazement: a knitted maze. Photograph: Pat Ashforth

Ashforth says that another part of the enjoyment of making the afghans is seeing … the effect we have had on children, either directly by them seeing our big colourful blankets and suddenly understanding something they had previously struggled with, or because other teachers have used our ideas (not always in knitted form) to help teach maths in an unconventional way. And influencing the lives of so many (most often women) maths-phobics who would not dream of becoming involved with anything mathematical in other circumstances.

Some more math-ghans before we move on to other soft furnishings…

About Turn: half-and-half diagonally knitted squares. Photograph: Pat Ashforth
Spacecraft: Hilbert open Peano curve. Photograph: Pat Ashforth
Fibo-optic: Fibonacci sequence in two directions on the face of a cube Photograph: Pat Ashforth
Finite field: crochet representation of a finite field Photograph: Pat Ashforth
Rule of three: an impossible triangle Photograph: Pat Ashforth
Scaled up: dragon curves Photograph: Pat Ashforth
Penrose: This was based on a drawing that Sir Roger Penrose sent to Ashforth and Plummer, involving his own Penrose tiles. Photograph: Pat Ashforth

Romania players change squad numbers for maths problems before Spain game

In preparation for their friendly match with Spain, Romanias players have swapped their normal squad numbers for problems in a bid to help their countrys children with their maths

In preparation for their friendly match with Spain on Sunday night, Romanias players have swapped their normal squad numbers for maths problems in a bid to help their countrys children with their education.

The idea for the new numbers, printed on the back of training tops, will be supported by a video at the Cluj Arena explaining the initiative, which is designed to combat Romanian children dropping out of school as of 2014 the rate is 18%, one of the worst records in the European Union.

Football and mathematics are not mutually exclusive, said the Romanian Football Federation president, Razvan Burleanu. We must look at sports and education as not only complementary but fundamental elements integrated in the training and perfection of children. We want to have healthy generation and smart students who achieve performance and tools through tailored passions. Through this project, children will learn the basics of football and have an opportunity for the first time in our country to discover mathematics through an attractive approach.

Romania host Spain off the back of a 1-0 win over Lithuania on Wednesday. Having finished second in their Euro 2016 qualifying group behind Northern Ireland, they will play France in the opening match of the tournament on 10 June before going on to face Switzerland and Albania in the group stage.

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Can you solve it? Are you smarter than the Gogglebox brainbox?

Bill from the telly will boggle your noddle

Hello guzzlers,

In the the week that Gogglebox is back on the telly, were all going to try our hands at some brilliant puzzles.

The following four gems were all devised by Bill from Gogglebox: hes the one that sits next to his pal Josef in a house in Cambridge.

Bill is William Hartston, a former British chess champion, a writer and a longtime lover of maths and puzzles. A kindred spirit.

To solve these brainteasers you will have to think laterally. If you are struggling Ill be back at noon UK with some tips. (Tips now added below)

Now relax on your sofa, make sure you have refreshment at hand a plate of biscuits, a Pot Noodle or a gin and tonic and enjoy:

1) What is the next number in the following series?

23, 9, 20, 14, 14, 9, 20, 6, …

2) Mary I; George III, Henry III, James II, George IV, Charles I, …

Why might Henry I be an appropriate way to end the series?

3) What comes next in the following series?

2.1, 3.5, 3.3, 2.3, 1.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 1.8 …

4) What comes next in this series:

1, 2, 9, 12, 70, 89, 97, 102 …

Thanks so much to Bill for letting me use these puzzles. His most recent book Even More Things That Nobody Knows: 501 Further Mysteries of Life, the Universe and Everything is terrific and is out in paperback in November.

Bill in his chess glory days Photograph: Bill Hartston

Ill be back with the answers at 5pm UK.

I post a puzzle here on a Monday every two weeks. If you want to propose a puzzle for this column, please email me Id love to hear it.

Im the author of several books on maths, as well as the kids book Football School: Where Football Explains the World which tells you loads of amazing stuff parents dont tell you such as when exactly footballers poo, why eagles are the most common mascot for football teams and how to play football on Mars

You can check me out on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, my personal website or my Guardian maths blog.


1) Think about the alphabet.

2) Think what the numbers might be referring to.

3) Think about your keyboard.

4) Think about subtracting 1.

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Did you solve it? The logic question almost everyone gets wrong

The results are in and yes, most of you got this one wrong. Heres why.

Earlier today I set you this puzzle:

Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?

  • A: Yes
  • B: No
  • C: Cannot be determined

The correct answer is A.

Before I get to the explanation, a few words on why I set the question. I wanted to test if it really was the case that more than 80 per cent of people choose C. Well, the results are in, and with more than 200,000 submissions, this is how you voted:

  • A 27.68 per cent
  • B 4.55 per cent
  • C 67.77 per cent

More than 72 per cent of you chose the wrong answer. Maybe its an exaggeration to say that almost everyone gets this question wrong but the vast majority of you did! (And thats not accounting for the fact that many of you who took part are seasoned readers of this puzzle column, and were warned that this question was not all it seemed.)

Why is this question so tricky? It is because it appears to give you insufficient information. Annes marital status is not known, nor can it be determined, and so you make the inference that the question posed cannot be determined.

In fact, Annes marital status is irrelevant to the answer. If she is married, then a married person is looking at an unmarried person (Anne is looking at George), and if she isnt, a married person is looking at an unmarried person (Jack is looking at Anne).

Written down it becomes more obvious. If > means looking at then:

Jack > Anne > George, or

Married > Unknown > Unmarried

Replace Unkown with Married or with Unmarried and either way there is clearly a married person looking at an unmarried one.

This image may be helpful:

Pogo (@pogobeta) March 28, 2016

@alexbellos @bwecht

The puzzle caused many hands to be slapped on many foreheads.

Alex Rose (@Owlex_R) March 28, 2016

@alexbellos oh god, I’m so annoyed. Sorry, put me down in the “didn’t think hard enough and got it wrong” column.

As I expected, some people blamed getting the answer wrong on the poor wording of the question. For those of you who thought that Anne was not a person, then yes, C is the correct answer. But, come on guys, we can assume that Anne is a human being.

Robert Munafo (@mrob_27) March 28, 2016

@ShemyDjent @Hey_its_Boon @alexbellos @bwecht The question’s flaw is in using the word “person”; I must consider: what if Anne is my cat?

Others said that married and unmarried are not binary states, since what about widowed, or divorced. The Wikipedia article on marital status clears that one up.

Todays puzzle really belongs more to psychology than it does to mathematics or logic, as it is about the lazy assumptions we make, rather than whether or not we have the ability to solve the question.

Yet the reasoning that is used – that in order to solve something we need to consider all possibilities without knowing which is true – is frequently used in maths. In this video, the brilliant James Grime gives an example using irrational numbers.

The example about irrational numbers starts at 5.51

Source of todays puzzle: Rational and Irrational Thought: The Thinking That IQ Tests Miss by Keith E Stanovich, Scientific American.

I post a puzzle here every second Monday. My most recent book is Snowflake Seashell Star, a colouring book of mathematical images for all ages. (In the US its title is Patterns of the Universe.)

You can check me out on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and my personal website. And if know of any great puzzles that you would like me to set here, get in touch.

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Here’s What It Takes To Raise Seriously Smart Kids, According To A 45-Year-Long Study

The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) is one of the more colorfully named scientific studies. Now on its 45th year, it tracked the careers and accomplishments of up to 5,000 individuals, starting from when they were children or teenagers. As detailed by Nature, it would go on to transform the way gifted children are both identified and nurtured by the US education system.

More than anything other longitudinal study, it arguably is the best source in the world for understanding how to make children grow up with some impressive intellectual heft. It has produced hundreds of academic studies, and in particular, it appears to know how to spot talent ripe for development in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Unsurprisingly, many of those in SMPY which is coordinated by Vanderbilt University have gone on to become high-profile scientists. So whats the secret to turning your kids into potential geniuses?

Well, it appears that, contrary to many other studies, SMPYs data seems to suggest that a lot of it is born and bred in youth, and that inherent intelligence beats repeated practice when it comes to becoming an expert in something. In fact, early cognitive ability has a greater effect on achievement than either continued practice or other factors like the familys socio-economic status.

This finding also runs against the grain of most Western educational ethoses, which prioritize improving the abilities of children who struggle in this regard rather than those who have potential to reach great heights. Essentially, SMPY finds that if youre smart, and you are identified as such and nurtured, you will make it.

As such, standardized testing was a common method used by the initiative to find intellectually potent kids. Along with the partnered program at Johns Hopkins Universitys (JHU) Center for Talented Youth, the program tended to admit those who scored in the top 1percent in their university entrance exams.

Alumni included Mark Zuckerberg, Lady Gaga, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, along with pioneering mathematicians Terence Tao and Lenhard Ng. Whether we like it or not, these people really do control our society, says Jonathan Wai, a psychologist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program in Durham, North Carolina, and a collaborator with JHU, told Nature.

Standardized testing is used to find those with high potential. bibiphoto/Shutterstock

Initiatives like the SMPY have also been criticized for how it may be putting too much emphasis on the smartest kids. Some worry that those with slightly more limited potential may be ignored by such initiatives. Additionally, labelling kids as smart from an early age could undermine their willingness to learn.

Importantly, it has not been conclusively shown that theres just one single factor that will guarantee your child will grow up to be the next Richard Feynman or Rosalind Franklin. Many different studies trying to pick apart the varying influences of nature versus nurture seem to settle on the idea that its a bit of both genetics and their upbringing.

One suggests that parental love, in terms of being very supportive and cooperative with your child around the pre-school age, significantly boosts their brain growth rate. Another study strongly hints that complex tasks that get increasingly difficult over time are huge boons to neural connectivity and mental flexibility.

Interestingly, computer games of varying kinds are structured in this way, and an increasing body of evidence suggests that the occasional spurt of virtual roaming, puzzle solving, or competitive combat in video games may contribute towards improving cognitive functions in later life. Learning how to play a musical instrument and regularly reading booksis just as neurologically beneficial for adults as it is for children.

SMPY suggests it’s clear early on if children will rise to the top of their fields. Pressmaster/Shutterstock

[H/T: Nature]

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