Issue 30

May 2004
Kittens, jaguars, giraffes and bees are just some of the stars in this issue of Plus, where we journey through our own intestines, examine the fashions of the animal world and use mathematics to seek universal truth... or perhaps just make some money.
How does the uniform ball of cells that make up an embryo differentiate to create the dramatic patterns of a zebra or leopard? How come there are spotty animals with stripy tails, but no stripy animals with spotty tails? Lewis Dartnell solves these, and other, puzzles of animal patterning.
There are many different types of lottery around the world, but they all share a common aim: to make money. John Haigh explains why lotteries are the way they are.
In issue 29 of Plus, we heard how a simple mathematical equation became the subject of a debate in the UK parliament. Chris Budd and Chris Sangwin continue the story of the mighty quadratic equation.
It has often been observed that mathematics is astonishingly effective as a tool for understanding the universe. But, asks Phil Wilson, why should this be? Is mathematics a universal truth, and how would we tell?
  • Editorial trends - According to current trends, this editorial will never get written!
  • I've got your number - Soon the maths-phobic will have nowhere left to hide.
André Léger studies the fluid mechanics of food travelling through the intestines for consumer goods giant Unilever.
How many squares are there on a chessboard?
Although this book is 50 years old this year, its wisdom is needed now more than ever, as increasing computer power and our headline-obsessed media look set to drown us all in a sea of "statisticulation". This is the word coined by Darrell Huff to describe misinformation by the use of statistical material. Biased samples, dubious graphs, semi-attached figures: he describes all the usual suspects clearly and simply, rounding off with the most useful topic of all: How to Talk Back to a Statistic.
"Economic theory predicts that you are not enjoying this book as much as you thought you would", remarks Steven E. Landsburg at the start of one of the most enjoyable chapters of The Armchair Economist. The point turns out to be this: the fact that you have chosen to read it is a sign that you have probably overvalued it in relation to all the other books you could have read instead.
I have never before read a book that has so frequently made me think "wow, that's interesting!". "Mathematics for the Imagination" is an absolutely fascinating account of mathematical methods and discoveries and the people behind them, with the sordid histories of mathematicians through the ages jostling for the reader's attention next to their elegantly simple proofs.
After years of publications on popular science and mathematics, we all know that mathematics can provide answers to questions arising from everyday life. If we want to find out when the two hands of a clock will be in exactly the same position or to calculate the volume of a doughnut, we will certainly need to use some maths. But how difficult can this be?