#093 Alex Bellos: Puzzles, Perception and Pool Tables

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This episode of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast is kindly sponsored by Qubizm, the creators of the award-winning Izak9.

To find out more about their lovely product, just visit: izak9.com


On this episode of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast I spoke to Alex Bellos.

Alex is a journalist, the man who runs the Guardian’s fortnightly Monday puzzle, and the author of some of the best-loved Maths books of recent times, including Alex’s Adventures in Numberland. As I found out, he is also just a brilliant person to have a chat to.

In a wide ranging conversation,we discussed the following things, and plenty more besides:

  • What is Alex’s invention of a special mathematical pool table, and how can you get your hands on one? (spoiler alert: you might need around twenty grand)
  • How does Alex think the public’s perception of maths has changed?
  • What sort of people answer his Guardian puzzle?
  • What drives Alex to write about maths?
  • Alex shares some anecdotes from some of his best known books
  • Then we discuss all things puzzle related
  • Where does Alex get his puzzles from?
  • What makes a good puzzle?
  • What is his new book: So you think you’ve got problems all about
  • And Alex gives us a lovely puzzle to ponder
  • Finally Alex reflects on something important he has changed his mind about.

Now, just a bit of background to this episode. I have loved Alex’s writing for many years, and hence I had been looking forward to this conversation for ages. And then, one hour before we were supposed to record, my broadband went down. 45 minutes on the phone to Sky resulted in them trying to charge me to have an engineer come out and fix it next week to fix their fault – on, and would I like to upgrade to Sky Movies? Just in case their are young children listening, I won’t tell you my response. So, I jumped in the car, and drove the 30 minutes to my mother and father in law’s house, ran upstairs to the spare bedroom, hooked up to their internet, called up Alex, and did the entire conversation sat on the bed via a dodgy headset. I was in a bad mood, which subsequently evaporated about 2 seconds into the conversation as Alex launched into one of his many stories. What followed was 2 brilliant hours of me listening to an incredible passionate and gifted storyteller in action. It was a delight.

Some of Alex’s books are:
So You Think You’ve Got Problems?: Surprising and rewarding puzzles to sharpen your mind
Can You Solve My Problems?: A casebook of ingenious, perplexing and totally satisfying puzzles
Alex’s Adventures in Numberland
Alex Through the Looking-Glass: How Life Reflects Numbers, and Numbers Reflect Life
Football School Season 1: Where Football Explains the World

Alex’s website is: alexbellos.com
On Twitter he is: @alexbellos
His Guardian Monday puzzles can be found here

Alex Bellos’ Big 3:
1. Tanya Khovanova Puzzle Blog
2. UK Linguistics Olympiad
3. Forensic linguistics podcast – en clair

My usual plugs:

Thanks so much for listening, and I really hope you enjoy the show!
Craig Barton

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