We have just learnt a really nice fact about the game of tic-tac-toe. As you may know, tic-tac-toe always results in a draw if both players make the best moves possible at every step of the game. To force a draw you need to follow a particular strategy, which isn't too hard, but tedious to write down (see here).
But now imagine you play tic-tac-toe the other way around, so that the first person to get three in a row loses the game. Again the game will end in a draw if both players play optimally. But this time the strategy for the first player is really easy: at your first move, choose the central square, and after that simply mirror your opponent's moves. By "mirror" we mean that you choose the square that is diametrically opposite the last square the opponent chose: if the opponent chose the top right corner, you choose the bottom left one, if they chose the middle top one, you choose the middle bottom one, and so on.
The same works in a version of tic-tac-toe that has, not 3x3, but nxn squares, where n is an odd number (if n is even there is no central square). Again we play the version in which the player who first gets n in a row loses. If the first player adopts the strategy above, they will never lose.
It's not too difficult to see why this strategy works. Let's call the player who goes first A and the other one B. After A takes the central square at the first move, B goes next and A mirrors B from then on. This means that whatever configuration of squares A has taken, B has taken the mirror image of the same configuration first. In particular, if A was forced to take n squares in a row, then B must have taken n squares in a row at the previous move, so B would have lost before A even got to make the supposed losing move. Nice!
Can we always find order in systems that are disordered? If so, just how large does a system have to be to contain a certain amount of order? In this video Imre Leader of the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics at the University of Cambridge gives an equation free introduction to a fascinating area of maths called Ramsey theory.
This talk was originally given to an audience of Year 12 A-level maths students (aged 16-17) in June this year and formed part of a mathematics enrichment day organised by the Millennium Mathematics Project with a special focus on encouraging the development of mathematical thinking.
"This talk will mostly be stories ... I want to tell you about Albert Einstein, and about his theory of relativity — what it is, why he was thinking about it and also about some of the very latest developments that have happened just this year."
This video contains a talk by one of our favourite physicists, David Tong at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge. It was originally given to an audience of Year 12 A-level maths students (aged 16-17) in June this year and formed part of a mathematics enrichment day organised by the Millennium Mathematics Project with a special focus on encouraging the development of mathematical thinking.
You might be surprised at what our image of the week depicts – commuting times! It shows the areas accessible by public transport from Cambridge, leaving at 9.00am on a weekday morning. The coloured circles depict the travel time in bands of 10 minutes. Thank you to those kind souls travelling for over an hour for giving us so many beautiful colours! You can find out more about the image in our article Travel time maps – transforming our view of transport.
Mr and Mrs Huntrodd were both born on the same day — 19 September 1600. That's quite a coincidence isn't it? (See here just how much of a coincidence this is.) What's even more of a coincidence is that they both died, within 5 hours of each other, on the same day too, which was… drum roll please… 19 September 1680! This seems very surprising. So surprising that even the very hard to surprise Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter OBE, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk and friend of Plus, was surprised. So surprised that he took this photo and is now throwing a party to celebrate this unlikely event with party, this Friday 19 September.