John Haigh: Celebrating the maths in everyday life

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It's with great sadness that we learnt about the death of John Haigh last week. Haigh lectured at the University of Sussex until 2019 and had a particular interest in probability theory. Haigh was known for finding the maths in everything, setting up the Mathematics in everyday life class at the University and writing the popular book Mathematics in everyday life.

His finesse at understanding chance and making rough-and-ready calculations, combined with his passion for sport, TV gameshows, and the maths of everyday life, led to a number of popular science books and also some Plus articles. As a small tribute to Haigh here is a collection of articles he wrote or co-wrote for Plus, as well as reviews of two of his books. In the words of his co-author Rob Eastaway, Haigh was "a master of statistics who wore his expertise with modesty".

You can read an obituary of John Haigh in The Guardian.

Pointless: The maths of TV gameshows — One thing that makes TV game shows fun to watch is that there's usually an element of luck involved. But how (un)lucky is (un)lucky? Haigh looked at the probabilities of two popular examples.

A pointless return — We celebrated the return of Pointless, the addictive TV quiz show, last summer with John Haigh and some fascinating Pointless maths.

The colour of money — ITV's The colour of money was deemed the most stressful game show on TV. Haigh looked at the maths behind it to figure out optimal strategies.

Making two tribes fairer — In the TV game show Two Tribes teams could have unequal sizes. Is that fair? Haigh investigated.

Blast it like Beckham — What tactics should a football player use when taking a penalty kick? And what can the goalkeeper do to foil the plans? Haigh used game theory to find the answers.

The logic of drug testing — When an athlete fails a drug test can we really conclude that they are cheating? John Haigh did the maths.

The maths of gold medals: Four Olympic thoughts — It's not the winning, it's the taking part that counts. But, like it or not, what the media and governments focus on is the tally of gold medals. Together with Rob Eastaway, Haigh explored some of the maths of gold.

An almighty coincidence — Life is full of coincidences, but how do you work out if something is really as unlikely as it seems? Haigh and Eastaway found chance in church and worked out the odds.

Running a lottery, for beginners — There are many different types of lottery around the world, but they all share a common aim: to make money. Haigh explained why lotteries are the way they are.

Book reviews

The hidden mathematics of sport — Clearly and interestingly written, humorous and varied, requiring only a minimal familiarity with maths, Haigh and Eastaway's The hidden mathematics of sport is a pure pleasure to read. It contains an impressive array of mathematical topics, much broader and more unusual than standard findings about the statistics of sports or the equations governing the motion of projectiles.

Taking chances — In this book Haigh looks at games of chance in the broadest sense, from the National Lottery, quiz shows, casino games and card, dice and coin games, through game-theoretic "games" such as military conflicts, to all types of sports.

  • Want facts and want them fast? Our Maths in a minute series explores key mathematical concepts in just a few words.