Chalkdust issue 14 – Coming 22 November

Fantastic news! Chalkdust issue 14 will be released at 11am on Monday 22 November. You can preorder printed copies now!

The cover of issue 14

We’re really excited to share this new issue with you. Among the many articles, we have features on chess, visual beat frequency and the history of the Polish codebreakers. Of course there are also all your favourite regulars.

Here’s a sneak peak of the snazzy cover art inspired by Madeleine Hall’s article on Venn diagrams.

You can share your excitement about the upcoming issue with us on Twitter using #chalkdust14. 

You can still order physical copies of issues 11, 12 and 13, or view them as pdfs.

You can preorder issue 14 now, to get a physical copy sent straight to your home.

Alternatively you can find a free copy at the following universities:

  • Bath
  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Cambridge
  • Durham
  • Edinburgh
  • Greenwich
  • Imperial College London
  • King’s College London
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester
  • Oxford
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • Reading
  • Royal Holloway
  • Scumbag College
  • Sheffield Hallam
  • UCL
  • University of East Anglia
  • Warwick

Have we missed out your university? Want to order some copies for the common room? Drop us an email at:


Crossnumber winners, issue 13

Hello everyone! It’s time to announce the winners of the issue 13 crossnumber competition! Before we reveal the winners, here is the solution of the crossnumber.

1 6 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
8 5 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 4
3 2 0 9
6 3 3 5 2 1 0 1 6 4
9 0 0 9 6 0 7 1 4
4 0 2 9 3 1 1 9 6 3
0 9 7 1
1 5 7 9 2 9 9 9 7 3
2 2 2 9 9 9 9 0 0
1 7 9 2 7 9 4 9 1 2
3 2 0 2
6 4 7 2 9 1 0 2 8 5
1 0 0 3 4 3 1 6 9

The sum of the across clues was 13704.

There were 82 entries, 68 of which were correct. The randomly selected winners are:

  1. Alistair Benford, who wins a £100 Maths Gear goody bag,
  2. Miguel Ángel Morales Medina, who wins a Chalkdust T-shirt,
  3. Yuliya Nesterova, who wins a Chalkdust T-shirt,
  4. Martin Schuh, who wins a Chalkdust T-shirt.

Well done to Alistair, Miguel, Yuliya and Martin, and thanks to everyone else who attempted the crossnumber. Keep your eyes peeled for issue 14’s puzzle, which will be released very soon…


Crossnumber winners, issue 12

Hello everyone! As the 13th Chalkdust prize crossnumber has just been released, it’s time to announce the winners of the issue 12 crossnumber competition! Before we reveal the winners, here is the solution of the crossnumber.

6 7 2 9 9 9 7 4 1 3 2 4
4 2 2 1 9 9 9 8 0 1 5
2 1 4 1 4 9 1 1 3 7 6 2
8 4 1 2
1 5 1 4 4 7 3 3 3 9 4 5
5 4 4 4 2 4 3 3 3 9 4
1 4 8 7 3 8 3 3 3 3 3 9
4 3 9 2
1 4 1 4 1 1 2 6 4 1 0 1
4 7 9 2 1 1 9 2 2 2 0
4 4 1 9 6 1 7 5 9 1 2 4
3 9 5 4
7 2 3 3 3 3 1 5 1 3 6 3
5 1 1 3 3 1 5 6 9 3 0
7 3 5 3 3 3 4 9 5 3 6 0

The sum of the across clues was 19404.

There were 63 entries, 52 of which were correct. The randomly selected winners are:

  1. Robert Kerry, who wins a £100 Maths Gear goody bag,
  2. Nick Keith, who wins a Chalkdust T-shirt,
  3. Sarah Gross, who wins a Chalkdust T-shirt,
  4. Pamela Docherty, who wins a Chalkdust T-shirt.

Well done to Robert, Nick, Sarah, and Pamela, and thanks to everyone else who attempted the crossnumber. Hope you enjoy issue 13’s puzzle


Issue 13 launch art project

We are very excited to launch issue 13 of Chalkdust which we have jam packed with articles lovingly crafted by our authors and editors. This issue is something of an homage to the late great John Conway who is featured as our significant figure. The issue also includes some favourite mathematical games and cellular automata, both of which Conway was very interested in.

In order to celebrate the release of Chalkdust issue 13, we have decided to do something a little different. Alas we cannot yet invite you to join us for an in-person celebration, but we thought it would be fun to join with you in a little community art and maths project inspired by our cover feature for this issue on cellular automata. In short, an automaton is a simple machine which follows a set of rules, perhaps to produce a pattern of coloured squares. These patterns can turn out to be surprisingly complex given the unassuming rules which generate them. You should read up about elementary cellular automata in our cover article, before reading on below.

A marriage of maths and art

What is it exactly we would like you to do? Produce a piece of art inspired by a cellular automaton. Quite deliberately we are not being proscriptive about the medium of the art, or exactly which automaton you choose. We would however recommend that you stick to an automaton which is a variation on the elementary automata discussed in our cover feature, in particular a one-dimensional automaton which allows you to represent the time-evolution of the pattern in two-dimensions. To get you started, here are some ideas which you might want to explore.

Art medium ideas:

  • No need to overcomplicate things, you could stick to colouring pencils or paint on paper
  • You could try forming your square grid using paper weaving, or get other ideas from the Art Assignment YouTube channel
  • Maybe you want to push the boundaries to traditional media, and try plaiting an automaton into someone’s hair, using coloured beads to make the pattern
  • Creating some form of digital art could be the most straightforward option, as the computer can do the drawing for you—just make sure you add your own flair so that it becomes art and is not just a maths plot
  • Choose some way to use your automaton to encode musical notes and turn the pattern into a piece of music

Automaton ideas:

  • The 256 elementary automata are well studied and you can find examples of each online, why not pick one you like the look of and run with it?
  • Starting with a row of eight, say, 1s and 0s, you could glue the two ends together and then run your automaton on a cylinder rather than expanding out into the plane
  • If you like the idea of ternary, or other base $b$, automata but feel a bit intimidated by the $b^{b^3}$ possible rules, try one of the $b^{3(b-1)+1}$ totalistic rules, where the value of each cell in the next generation depends only on the total sum of the three cells above it, not their individual values and configuration

    Ternary totalistic rule 2101001$_3$ which is 1729 in decimal.

  • Stephen Wolfram’s book A new kind of science (available for free online) has a whole chapter (chapter 3) on one-dimensional cellular automata and their variations, including totalistic rules, substitution systems, and Turing machines—pick one you like and have a play

We are very excited to see what imaginative things you can come up with. When you’re happy with your piece(s) of art, send them to us on Twitter (@chalkdustmag) using the hashtag #chalkdust13, or via email ( and we’ll feature the best ones on our blog.


Chalkdust issue 13 – Coming 1 May

The cover of issue 13

Exciting news: Chalkdust issue 13 will be released at 11am on Saturday 1 May!

We’re really looking forward to letting you read this issue: there’s some really great stuff in it, such as articles about ranking England managers, Jpeg compression, and an interview with Ulrike Tillmann, as well as all your favourite regulars.

The cover of issue 13 features a picture created by an elementary cellular automaton. To help us celebrate the release of issue 13, we are asking our readers to spend some time over the launch weekend creating their own automata-inspired artwork.

Your artwork can take any form you like: you could do a bit of digital art, a painting, a sculpture, or you could even retile your bathroom following the rules of your favourite automaton. If you’ve not learned much about automata yet, then you can read our On the cover article about them on Saturday for inspiration.

You can share your artwork with us on Twitter using the hashtag #chalkdust13, or email it to us at If we really like it, we might even send you a Chalkdust T-shirt.

You can still order physical copies of issues 11 and 12 here, and preorders of issue 13 will be available shortly.


Book of the Year 2020

A few weeks ago, we announced the 7 book shortlist for the 2020 Chalkdust Book of the Year. In this post, we announce the winner of this award.

We will be awarding two prizes: the Chalkdust Book of the Year (as chosen by our editors), and the Chalkdust Readers’ Choice (as voted for by our readers).

Chalkdust Book of the Year 2020

We found picking a winner of this award really difficult, as all the books on the shortlist were deserving of the prize (obviously, as if not they wouldn’t have made the shortlist). The one thing that set the winner apart from the other books was the innovative ways in which it got the reader to interact with it, and the way it could be enjoyed by older readers as well as children. And the winner is:

Molly and the Mathematical Mystery

Eugenia Cheng and Aleksandra Artymowska

This book (Amazon UK, Waterstones) is an interactive children’s book that encourages the reader to solve clues to follow the adventure.

You can read our full review of Molly and the Mathematical Mystery here.

Chalkdust Readers’ Choice 2020

As well as picking our favourite from the shortlist, we held a vote for our readers to pick their favourite. The runaway winner of this poll was:

Mathematical Adventures!

Ioanna Georgiou and Asuka Young

This book (Amazon UK, Waterstones, Tarquin) is a children’s book the takes the reader on a journey through the history of maths.

You can read our full review of Mathematical Adventures! here.


The Wonder Book of Geometry

David Acheson is a mathematician at Jesus College, University of Oxfors. The Wonder Book of Geometry (Amazon UK, Waterstones, Oxford University Press) is a book that takes the reader on a journey through the world of geometry.


The Wonder Book of Geometry starts by recounting a story of a young David Acheson being surprised: he drew a semicircle, picked a point, then draw lines from the endpoints of the diameter to the point. He then measured the angle. To his surprise, the angle was always 90°, now matter where the point was placed. Mathematics is full of this type of surprise, and this book shares many situations with the reader. Many of them may be familiar to many readers, but you cannot fail to enjoy a nice surprise at a fair few of them.


After showing the 90° semicircle fact, The Wonder Book of Geometry looks at why it is true. This is another very satisfying bit of maths, as when viewed in the right way, the result goes from being surprising to being ‘obvious’. Rather than spoiling the result by taking away the mystery, seeing how it is true in this way actually makes is better. As David puts it: “this is often one of the hallmarks of mathematics at its best.”


While the book starts with the kind of angles, areas, and shapes that will be familiar from secondary school (although going back and seeing why these results are true is always fun), it soon moves into less familiar territory, covering less well known results related to circles and triangles, as well as other topics such as sphere packing an non-Euclidean geometry.


I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to rekindle their love of geometry, or looking to revisit geometry and leave with a deeper understanding of why things are true.


Now that we’ve review all the book’s on this year’s shortlist, you can vote for your favourite. The book with the highest number of votes will be crowned the 2020 Readers’ Choice. Voting closes at 5pm on Saturday 13 March.

What is your favourite book on the 2020 Book of the Year shortlist?

  • Mathematical Adventures! by Ioanna Georgiou and Asuka Young (63%, 1,181 Votes)
  • Hello Numbers! What Can You Do? by Edmund Harriss, Houston Hughes and Brian Rea (34%, 639 Votes)
  • Why Study Mathematics? by Vicky Neale (1%, 26 Votes)
  • The Wonder Book of Geometry by David Acheson (1%, 10 Votes)
  • Geometry Juniors by Ed Southall (1%, 10 Votes)
  • Molly and the Mathematical Mystery by Eugenia Cheng and Aleksandra Artymowska (0%, 8 Votes)
  • How to Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford (0%, 8 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,882

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Hello Numbers! What Can You Do?

Edmund Harriss is a mathematician, artist, and assistant professor at the University of Arkasas. Houston Hughes has produced hundreds of live shows in collaboration with musicians, chefs, scientists, mathematicians, and others. Brian Rea is an artist and painter from Los Angeles. Hello Numbers? What Cah You Do? (Amazon UK, Waterstones, Workman) is a children’s book about numbers.


Hello Numbers! takes the reader through the numbers from zero to five (inclusive) and encourages the reader to count, arrange a number of points into shapes, and look for ways to add to make numbers. The rhyming sentences on each page are accompanied by charming and colourful drawings that show some of the things that can be done with each number.


As well as encouraging the reader to count, this book suggesting thinking about some other properties of numbers: the three characters that make up the number 3 can be arranged into a triangle; four character can made a square, or other four sided shapes, or a pyramid; five characters can make a star. A real strength of this book is that it shows irregular shapes that can be made as well as equilateral triangles and squares. Perhaps my favourite page is the one with a triangle so long and thing that it stretches across the whole double page spread.


This book is probably suitable for a younger audience than many of the other books on this year’s shortlist, as it encourages the reader to engage with more basic mathematical ideas than the others. This is no way a bad thing, as younger readers need reasons to love maths as well as older reasons.


I’d recommend this book to anyone with younger primary aged children or relatives looking for a fun book to encourage some number-related exploration and play with a child. I’m looking forward to seeing what my niece thinks of it on her birthday later this year…


Why Study Mathematics?

Vicky Neale is a mathematics lecturer at the University of Oxford. Why Study Mathematics? (Amazon UK, Waterstones, London Publishing Partnership) is book that looks into studying mathematics at university.


Why Study Mathematics? is a book aimed at 16-18 year-olds considering studying maths or related subjects at university. The book is split into two parts. The first part discusses what is involved in the study of university mathematics, why you should consider studying maths, and what people go on to do after a maths degree. The second part looks at a few university-level mathematical topics.


This book gives a very informative view into what studying maths is like, and a very readable introduction to the mathematical topics it covers in the second half.


This book is a must-have for every school library, as it will be an invaluable source of information for any students considering a mathematical degree.


If you already have a maths degree (especially if you got it reasonably recently), this book isn’t for you. But if you don’t have one and are considering studying for one, I could not recommend this book more highly. I really wish this book has been written a while ago, so I could’ve had it when I was 17 and looking at universities.


Molly and the Mathematical Mystery

Eugenia Cheng is a mathematician, author, baker, and concert pianist (you can find out more about her by reading our interview with her from issue 09). Aleksandra Artymowska is an author and illustrator of children’s books. Molly and the Mathematical Mystery (Amazon UK, Waterstones) is an interactive children’s book that encourages the reader to solve clues to follow the adventure.


Molly and the Mathematical Mystery is a beautiful book. Its pages are large, and full of wonderful illustrations. On each page, the reader is encouraged to help Molly continue on her adventure by finding information under flaps, opening flaps to change available routes, or even using the flaps to construct a path for Molly that takes her out of the page.


Molly’s adventure leads the reader through a range of mathematical ideas, including fractals, symmetry, and Latin squares. The reader is encouraged to interact with the book to experiment with these ideas, then more information about each one is given at the end of the book.


The use of flaps that can be lifted, moved, and rearranged really sets this apart from other children’s maths books. I was particularly impressed with the page on which I had to attached the flaps together to make cubes that Molly could walk around to find her path to the next page.


I’d recommend this book to anyone with a child or young relative. There’s lots to enjoy in this book for children of any age: younger children can interact with the book by lifting the flaps to look for clues, while older readers could engage with the mathematical ideas and puzzles spread throughout the book.