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Dara O'Briain's brain teasers: Try the comedian's fiendishly tough maths quiz

As 'School of Hard Sums' returns to TV, presenter Dara O'Briain reveals his love of all things numerical. But dare you take this dastardly mathematical quiz, devised by the show's eggheads?
  • @adamjacques88

When I was at school, I always hated the effort people used to make to try to persuade us that maths is cool – programme-makers thinking, "If only we could make it hip, people would appreciate it more." Well, with School of Hard Sums, I don't care if we never make maths popular: I'm a fat, bald man, and I'm not going to make it hip like Professor Cox has with physics. And it doesn't need to be.

There's some very special numbers in maths, one of my favourites being "E" (approximately 2.71828). It's known as the second-best number in maths after Pi. You can basically use it for any kind of selection process, whether it's to pick a life partner or the best burger restaurant, by dividing the total number of options likely to be available to you by E.

If you were to use it to pick a partner, say, you'd divide the total number you're likely to meet – let's say 20 – by E, which is 37 per cent of that figure. Then you'd pick the best candidate you met after that point, which would be the seventh person. There are proofs out there that show you're more likely to pick the best choice with this technique. It's a strategy used in nature, by stickleback fish, for example, to choose a mate."

I think we've learnt to better embrace our inner nerd in this country over the past few years. There was a coming together of geeks around the time Twitter got started, in 2006; we were finding one another on blogs and spawning a community of like-minded rationalists tired of the anti-science rubbish being spouted. The likes of me and [stand-up] Robin Ince began performing high-profile gigs about science; then Brian Cox came along with his TV shows.


When School of Hard Sums was first offered to me two years ago, I realised there were a lot of people in Britain who, like me, were nerdy and happy with it. We're tapping in to many of the viewers who have degrees in maths and science [O'Briain studied mathematics and theoretical physics], but don't get a chance to use that now.

So unlike some of the more mathematically challenged comedians who come on the show and use brute force to try to get to the right answer, many of our viewers have access to some powerful techniques to solve the sort of problems you can see here.

The third series of 'School of Hard Sums' begins at 10pm on 4 March on Dave

Problems devised by Kit Yates & Thomas Woolley