Few numbers can match the star status of Pi. Mathematics’ most famous constant - familiar to most of us from high
school geometry classes, features in some of the subject’s most celebrated formulae and occurs naturally all
around us in the circular patterns of nature. Written about and romanticised more than any other mathematical
symbol, Pi evokes a degree of human interest far beyond its applications. From memes to merchandise, competitive
recitation to wordplay, Pi has transcended the field of mathematics to become an icon of modern geek culture. In
fact, such is Pi’s popularity, it has even found its way on to the international calendar!
Origami surrounds us. From envelopes to pizza boxes, airbags to satellites in space, the principles of this ancient
art form have applications far beyond the paper boats and fortune tellers we made as kids. Engineers, medical
scientists and teachers - to name but three - employ paper-folding techniques regularly in their work to model design
ideas, solve complex problems and explain difficult-to-grasp concepts in an accessible way. But what exactly is
Origami? And how is it useful in the modern world?
From subtle foreign language fairytales to big screen blockbusters, historical landscapes to imagined futures,
action adventure to heartwarming romance, movies transport us to new worlds from the comfort of an armchair,
delivering an abundance of magical moments and an endless stream of characters with whom we can identify and
champion. But more than that, the best movies provoke thought and inspire change, and the most memorable
characters are those with hidden depths and unexpected qualities; those who, through their own transformation,
force a change in our perception; those that surprise us.
When the Raspberry Pi foundation launched the first version of its eponymous product in 2012, they cannot have
imagined the reception their tiny, single-board computer would receive. Eight years later and now in its fourth
generation, the Raspberry Pi has become one of the world’s best selling computers, quickly realising its
intention of reversing the downward trend in university computer science applications and fuelling a new
generation of enthusiasts to explore programming through play. But how did a device as small as a credit card
and with very few commercial expectations, wind up selling more than thirty-six million units and transforming
the way we think about ‘the computer’?
As a self confessed numberphile, editing this blog post such that it doesn’t extend for pages was quite the challenge.
There’s no escaping the fact that numbers are fundamental to our daily lives, enabling us to quantify what we see and
experience, and affording us a common understanding of information that might otherwise not be possible. But not all
numbers are created equal. And whilst some of the coolest numbers around are those whose values underpin important
mathematical theorems such as the seemingly omnipresent pi, others are revered for the simple fact that they possess a
multitude of interesting - if not necessarily useful - properties.
Fenced in on all sides at the centre of Europe, Switzerland is a curious case to stand alone. And yet alone is exactly
how it has stood on numerous occasions throughout history. Declaring itself neutral in wartime and opting out of the
European Union when the general consensus was to opt in, Switzerland has nonetheless garnered a deserved reputation for
economic and political stability. But how does a landlocked, mountainous nation with few natural resources and a culture
seen by many as rather insular, prosper in a world where we’re continuously drilled that there’s ‘strength in unity’?
Mathematics is the building blocks of the very world we inhabit. Few subjects have such wide-ranging applications; few
disciplines foster such intrigue and curiosity. But whilst it's true that maths governs so much of the material and
conceptual worlds, and has perhaps more than anything else, accelerated technological progress, its importance to our
daily lives is so often disputed or taken for granted.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the anagram is a modern invention; a little wonder of wordplay borne out
of our incessant desire to find meaning and magic in the mundane. But in fact, the art of anagramming - rearranging
the letters of a word or phrase to form another expression - has been around for centuries, with historians mapping
its origins as far back as Ancient Greece. Since then, the anagram has served as a form of flattery, a literary
device and a test of implicit memory, but despite its various applications, the beauty of this form has always lain
in its simplicity. That, and its somewhat startling propensity to reveal an element of truth or insight about its
Since the middle of March, and perhaps longer for countries outside of the UK, Covid has become the C word
that trumps all profanities. The Coronavirus pandemic has crippled countries across the globe, causing deaths
on a scale seldom seen in peacetime and bringing to their knees, even the world's most robust economies. The
Office for National Statistics reported that in April - as the country endured its first month in lockdown,
the UK economy shrank by a record 20.4% whilst over the same period, the number of people claiming unemployment
benefits rose by more than 850,000. And this picture - one that is mirrored by nations all over the world - looks
set only to worsen as government support schemes are scaled back in the coming months. Nobody knows for sure what
lies ahead and it seems that uncertainty is the only thing we can be certain about! But it's worth remembering in
these times of difficulty, the optimistic and much quoted words of John Adams, ‘Every problem is an opportunity
The concept of cool has been part of popular culture since the 1940s, but its origins - if not its name - go
back much further than that. Essentially, an aesthetic of attitude, appearance and style that is considered
desirable to others, cool is a perpetually sought after state amongst young people; one that is nigh on
impossible to quantify and whose characteristics have changed considerably over time. From the admired
recklessness and rebellion of the 1970s, to today’s championing of self-expression, cool has evolved to mean
different things to different generations, and somewhere along the line, intelligence and mental ability have
crept into this complex calculation. So when did academic achievement become something to shout about rather
than suppress? And is clever really the new cool?
‘We choose to go to the moon’ said John F. Kennedy in his 1962 address at Rice Stadium, Houston, Texas
‘not because it is easy, but because it his hard’. This single line is often credited with igniting
interest in the space race between the USA and the USSR, and signalling the start of a program that
would put two men on the moon by the end of the decade.
For so long a tool for diagnosing misconceptions and reducing test anxiety in educational
settings, multiple choice quizzes are increasingly becoming a popular format on television
game shows, online quizzing sites and mobile applications. The notion that it is easier to
select from a list of options, rather than have to generate an answer yourself, is one that
creates a sense of confidence in contestants and users. Presented in this way, potentially
problematic topics become more accessible and subsequently, more inclusive. This format
has undoubtedly been integral to the success of shows like The Chase, Tipping Point and
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? whose producers utilise multiple choice as a means of
increasing viewer numbers and encouraging audience participation. I mean, the answer is
right there staring back at you... all you have to do is find it!
If you're reading this then you’ve probably already read our opening post,
Let's Get Quizzical, in which I paint a picture of the current
quizzing landscape and meander through a few of the motivations behind Brainy Cow. In this post
(and upcoming posts), I'll be honing in on the art of quiz-making, attempting to describe the processes
we go through when creating new quizzes, and reflecting on what we need to do more (or less) of in future
as we look to grow our website.
To say I like a quiz is quite the understatement. I was one of those annoying kids who could recite
the alphabet backwards, name the states of America in a single minute and identify pretty much any
nation from its outline or from a picture of its flag. There was even a time when I could skip through
the entire screenplay of Mary Poppins without pause for thought...
Brainy Cow is an online quizzing platform designed by and for people who love quizzing.
© Brainy Cow 2020