The Brainy Cow blog chronicles our passion, our process and our progress, with trivia related posts that inform, educate and entertain.
Although the two disciplines might seem poles apart, the art of moviemaking is in fact made possible by the principles of mathematics. Without maths working its magic behind the scenes, little of what we have come to expect from the modern movie would remain. From the design and manufacture of equipment, to animation, cinematography and special effects, mathematical concepts are at the very heart of the movie production process, providing the platform on which motion pictures are made.
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!
Sporting genius is a notion that vexes. Rarely does a tennis tournament, or a football match, or an athletics meeting take place in which one or more of the performers is not flattered with this weighty accolade - be it on account of consistency and determination, a pleasingly emotional or luckless back story or a singularly sublime moment of skill that induces a stream of superlatives from commentators and journalists alike. We use the word ‘genius’ so flippantly and with such astonishing regularity that it can do nothing but cheapen its impact and muddy the waters of what we know to be true. Let it be said and let it remain: genius, in all disciplines, is rare.
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 subject...
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 in disguise’...
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.