Derby Maths Lead is a YouTube Star

If you study Maths at Derby you get to play Board Games, if you want, at least once a week either online or on campus. How cool is that! The sessions move around a bit but they are organised sometimes on the spot or even if you just ask, Nick Korpelainen.

Nick is program leader for Maths at the University of Derby. He studied at Cambridge and Warwick. He has expertise in Combinatorics and Topology and is currently torturing first years, this semester, with his Statistics class (in a good way - 😬). There is plenty of Topology and Graph Theory in the second and third years for those who sign up. But Nick is also a Games Enthusiast. When we said to another lecturer when our first year arrived on campus "Oh, we like games too", the reply was "no, Nick really likes games!"

This is true. He has also featured on a youtube, where he teaches other very experienced gamers (this is the level we're talking!) how to play "On Mars".

The episode is on a very popular channel, Boardgame Opinions, with the very engaging Jonathan Hicks. Nick revealed in a tweet that some of the other players had also been maths teachers. Naturally, given that Nick (on another tweet) ranked 'On Mars' as his number one Board Game, we pinged him a message on Teams and asked him: "do you need to be a mathematician to play it?"

This is his amazing reply:

"I don't think you need to be a mathematician, but I do think that playing such a game is a mathematical activity of optimisation of short/medium/long-term gains, problem-solving and learning from mistakes. I think a lot of the general public are mathematical without knowing it, or without taking pride in it. For example, some puzzle video games are clearly designed by mathematicians: the child-friendly Prof Layton series makes use of special applied cases of graph theory theorems (of which I cover the proof for year 3 university undergraduates). Many children are naturally addicted to mathematics, perhaps unknowingly, until they go to school and think that 'mathematics' as a word only relates to numbers and equations. I like to think of mathematical thinking in its broadest sense: so yes, playing On Mars is a fun way of engaging with mathematics. It depends on the interpretation of the word. The huge popularity of escape rooms and even board games formats of escape rooms prove that mathematics is actually extremely popular, if presented in a fun guise, without prejudice. Undeniably, escape rooms do teach and share various beautiful mathematical ideas with people. Board games highlight the special fun that comes with collaborative or competitive mathematics, as a pass time. The human interaction can enhance enjoyment. We can sense that in the maths quiz every semester. A lot of the skill in a board game is about forming an intuition about unfamiliar concepts. The same skill applies in a mathematics degree. To be able to intuit the best tool to solve a specific problem, under controlled constraints."

So there you have it. You don't formally need maths to play 'on Mars' but you'll use it anyway and you might not even notice. And if you're good at board games it might be worth considering the possibility that you might also be good at maths.

Keep an eye on Maths society events for board games and check out the Union page for details on Maths support via the Maths Cafe and Maths Certificate available for FREE to anyone studying ANY SUBJECT at the University of Derby.

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