Friday, 28 October 2016

Celebration of Mind 2016

Just over a week ago I had a message from Simon Bexfield to check that I’d received an invitation to his Celebration of Mind in Letchworth last Saturday. It turned out I hadn’t and I’d thought it was the following weekend (when I’d been planning to be in The Hague for DCD), so after I’d checked with management if there was anything important happening that weekend, I told him I’d be delighted to join the gathering…

…and so I found myself tooling down to Northern London on a Saturday morning – delighting in the relatively light traffic, even if there was a 15 mile section of road works with average speed cameras along the entire length. In Letchworth my sat-nav and I had a little bit of an altercation when it helpfully took me to the wrong end of the road I was trying to find … with an impassable railway bridge between me and where I wanted to be… a few minutes and a short detour later I’d found the school building I was looking for and recognised Simon unpacking as I arrived… nothing like the sight of a familiar face to confirm you’re in the right place after all.
Grabbing my plastic crate of wonders, I joined the queue inside to get a custom-made name badge from the senior junior Bexfield… complete with its own code to be solved during the course of the day…something I failed at totally!

I found an empty table and laid out a pile of Indian trick locks (and one or two recent wooden puzzles for the more hardened puzzlers) in the hopes of attracting one or two new converts to the joys of trying to solve trick locks… before wandering off to catch up with old friends.

Steve was walking around with his half-brick in a bottle – which looks a lot more impressive in real life than on FaceBook, FWIW – pointing out that it was just a half-brick, because a whole brick would obviously be impossible!

Several tables of interesting games (most of which I’d never seen before) had quite a few takers during the course of the day – at one point someone was being taught to play Hive and I should have paid attention and picked up the basics (I’ve been meaning to learn to play for a while!) but I probably got distracted by something shiny somewhere…

Simon had printed off several odd semi-spherical shapes for us to play with… they look pretty odd until you put a light source (like a camera- phone flash)  in the right spot and notice that the shadows unexpectedly cast a regular rectangular lattice…

Louise Mabbs had a wonderful display of mathematical quilting and fabric knots – hands-down the most colourful table!

Most folks got roped into giving a short talk on something vaguely Martin Gardner-related – mine was literally the briefest possible introduction to Indian Trick Locks and an invitation to play with the dozen or so I’d brought along… especially if you haven’t played with them before… and I’m delighted that I had a good few folks settle down for a good spell of puzzling…

The talks ranged from the really simple (mine!) to the wonderfully complex (Alex’s talk on counting partitions of integers had me Googling several things he’d mentioned during the following week and enjoying a little trip down a mathematical memory lane), Louise talking about her quilting designs and Natasha talking about her book on the development of the chess mind, Tim demonstrating his latest toys and Alison telling us just how interesting the number 2016 really is…

Simon set us a lovely statistical challenge: you have a tea caddy with 100 tea bags in it – they’re joined in pairs initially (it must be a North London thing!) – you successively dip in and take out a tea bag… sometimes you’ll get a pair, in which case you separate them and replace one of them in the caddy, using the other… Now clearly your first draw is never going to be a singleton, and the last draw must be a singleton… but what about the chances along the way … and when you get to the end of your supply of tea bags, what was the average probability of drawing out a single tea bag during that process?

(I should admit to feeling very silly when I checked my answer… I had massively overcomplicated things as usual!)

In between all the talks there was a cracking bring-and-share lunch and plenty of coffee to keep us going throughout the day….

Stimulating company (there were some VERY BRIGHT people there!!), toys and games, interesting talks – a damn fine thing to do in memory of the guy who did more to popularise our vices than anyone else. :-)


  1. Sorry I could go - I only heard about it the week before.
    I thought actuaries were all experts at statistics and probabilities! What happened?


    1. That'll be couldn't go! Damn iPhone!