Review – Matt Parker – Stand Up Maths

I didn’t like maths at school. Mr McCann was a good teacher looking, with his bushy beard and twinkly eyes, not unlike a number crunching Santa, but it just sent me to sleep. I did eventually pass my ‘O’ Grade 2nd time around but only by a lucky 1% and I left school thinking I’d never use it anyway (yes I was an idiot at 17 as most of us are!). Fast forward – ahem – years and here I am at the Jam House, keen as mustard to see Matt Parker – Stand Up Maths. For nowadays maths is cool and funny and people do whole shows about it and even though it still makes my head go a bit woozy, I love it for the ‘Ah, now I get it moments’.

Matt did indeed stand up for the whole show and he did talk about maths so no problems with trade descriptions here. He told us of his origins as a teacher in Australia and then in Slough (?!) imparting numerical wisdom to ‘bright eyed darling cherubs’ (N.B. possibly not his words verbatim) and how he then found his way to becoming Public Engagement in Maths Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London. He often takes part in The Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4 and his work in plotting the weirdly triangular layout of the ancient Woolworths civilisation has popped up on QI, although the elves decided to cut out the part that mentioned him by name – ouch.

After some quick audience surveys, Matt took us through those self same studies into the Woolworths civilisation and how it was actually a debunking of a theory about ancient British monuments and how they line up. Which is pretty much the same as any large sample of locations would line up and has nothing at all to do with mystical forces. Although, as Matt did concur with the original article, ‘we cannot rule out the intervention of aliens’*. *(Because mathematically you never can).

He explained why amazing random coincidences are never usually that amazing or indeed that random and how studies of accurate data can be skewed to show causation where none exists. It was then time for maths toys. Matt showed us how to win bets and lose friends with some nontransitive dice (which apparently works kind of like rock, paper, scissor, lizard, Spock but with dice). The man surely knows his audience!

Then finally there was time for a nifty party trick with a chain, a hoop and a seemingly impossible loop and also some admiring of the mobius scarf made by Skeptics on the Fringes very own Ben. Matt got a warm response from the Jam House audience and for a show where ‘no entertainment was guaranteed’ there was certainly a lot of people laughing. I’m now off home to wrench the plug chain from my bath and find a curtain ring to play with.