How to: Predict the unpredictable
Faced with the seemingly impossible? Maybe it's not so hard to master, says David Hand, author of 'The Improbability Principle' (Bantam, £20), out now...
* "Keep going for long enough. The law of truly large numbers says that, given enough opportunities, the most unlikely of things will happen. I can't predict when 20 consecutive flips of a fair coin will come up heads, but I can predict that some 20 consecutive flips will be heads if I go on long enough."
* "Make sure you've covered all the bases. The law of inevitability says that, while I can't tell you which horse will win the race, I can predict that one will."
* "Don't be too specific. This is the law of near enough. I couldn't predict who would win a gold at Sochi, but I was confident someone in the UK team would win some medal."
Rotating column: Sharing the load
By Archie Bland
My girlfriend has no interest in football, but I dragged her along to watch my team, Southampton, once before. I crossed my fingers for a 4-3 thriller. Instead, we crumpled to a 2-0 reverse against Wigan. At one point, she asked: "Is it the interval yet?" I didn't blame her.
In the intervening year, things have changed. She knows who Matt Le Tissier is; she knows we won the cup in '76; occasionally, if the mood takes her, she starts singing about Rickie Lambert, Southampton's goal machine. Somehow, I've persuaded her to come back.
It's ridiculous, I know. But all I want is for her to get a tiny dose of the rush that accompanies a late winner, an underdog victory, a 30-yard screamer. Fandom isn't necessary. A sense that I might not be a deluded moron would be more than enough.
Archie’s first saints game: West Ham (a) 14/4/92 L 0-1
By Ellen E Jones
Q. I've been asked to give a conference talk. It'd be great for my career, but I can't be bothered. What to do?
A. Never make the decision to attend a conference based on career considerations. Consider, instead, the opening hours of the breakfast buffet, the quality of any free booze and the potential for sexual liaisons with attractive overseas delegates.
Micro extract: Plain speaking
"The pronoun it is especially troublesome because the convenient English idiom of using it to anticipate the subject of a sentence tends to produce a plethora of its. As Cobbett said, 'When I see many its in a page, I always tremble for the writer'."
From 'Plain words: A Guide to the use of English' by Sir Ernest Gowers
Four play: 'Evil Empires'*
1. Soviet union (1983)
2. Rage Against the machine LP (1996)
3. Galactic empire (a long time ago)
4. British (1497-1997)**
* Reagan coined the term, today, 1983
** according to author Steven A Grasse