Welcome to the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) blog. The IMA is the UK's learned and professional society for mathematics and its applications. We promote mathematics research, education and careers, and the use of mathematics in business, industry and commerce. Among our activities we produce academic journals, organise conferences and engage with government.

In this blog we will publish mathematical articles and news to reflect the interests of our members who come from a multiplicity of different organisations including university academics, industrial mathematicians, financiers, school teachers, scientists, civil servants etc.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A maths afternoon in Nottingham: game shows and sport

Some of the audience waiting to enter the Maths Inspiration show
On Thursday I spent an enjoyable afternoon with Rob Eastaway in Nottingham. I attended the Maths Inspiration show at the Nottingham Playhouse, which featured talks by Chris Budd (IMA Vice President) on man-made climate change (is it really happening? The section of the audience near me thought so but Chris told me he heard quite a lot of "no"s), Mike Fletcher on game shows and Steve Mould on various topics. Helen Pilcher was acting as compere and Rob was in charge behind the scenes.
All the talks were excellent and it was pleasing to see a 700 seater theatre sold out with years 11, 12 and 13 for a show about mathematics (see photo above). I found Mike Fletcher's talk particularly interesting. He discussed game shows from the point of view of a recent news story, which we covered on the Math/Maths Podcast episode 88, that several game shows are being investigated by the Gambling Commission as possibly not containing enough skill to be operated without a gambling licence.

Mike took us through Play Your Cards Right, apparently due for a relaunch and one of the shows mentioned in the Gambling Commission story. I thought predicting whether the next card will be higher or lower in face value than the current card involved minimal skill, but Mike made a convincing argument otherwise. There's a lot more to the game than I realised because you can at times choose to swap the card you are playing for another from the deck or force your opponent to play, and all the cards are chosen from a single deck.

Showing various aspects of strategy, involving basic and conditional probabilities, Mike said if you played the game mathematically you could expect go home with the car about 3 times in 10. Statistically, he said, contestants win the car about 1 time in 10, which I think is a fairly convincing indication that there is a skill involved that people are generally lacking, but which can be learned.

In the evening Rob Eastaway gave his talk 'From Lampard to the Olympics' based on his book with John Haigh The Hidden Maths of Sport (review at Plus). This was an interesting and enjoyable talk, despite my relative dis-interest in sport, and well attended by a capacity audience of nearly 70. Rob made a point of avoiding discussion purely of the relatively well know use of statistics in sport. He gave examples of various mathematical topics in cricket, football, rugby, darts, tennis, basketball, athletics and American football. I don't want to give away the details, but you should look out for Rob speaking near you or pick up a copy of his book for further details.

Rob Eastaway doing a live 'ball game' based demo at his talk.
The next East Midlands Branch talk will be The Mathematics Magic Show by Peter McOwan on Wednesday 16 May 2012 at the University of Leicester. Peter is a researcher in computer vision with an amateur interest in magic, a combination that has led to research into visual illusions and outreach work with mathematics and magic. The meeting is preceded by a short AGM at 7.10pm (for those who are interested) before the talk at 7.30pm. No charge is made to attend meetings, non-IMA members are welcome.

Update (24/03/2012): Updated list of sports covered in Rob's talk, thanks to Mike Black on Twitter for filling in the gaps in my memory.

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