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Welcome to Week Three

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Marcus du Sautoy Marcus du Sautoy | 16:40 UK time, Friday, 5 August 2011


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In programme three the true power of The Code is unleashed in perhaps the ultimate challenge: predicting the future. If time travel were possible, it would be easy – I could just come back from next year and tell you what happened. Sadly we don’t yet know how to travel through time, and many of the ways people claim to predict the future, such as gazing into crystal balls or casting horoscopes, are complete mumbo-jumbo. If you really want to know what’s going to happen tomorrow, next year, or far into the next millennium, your best bet is mathematics.

To prove my confidence in the power of maths to look into the future I was even prepared to put my life at the mercy of The Code. Ever since we started making the series, there was talk of a death-defying stunt that I would be subjected to. The stunts varied from: driving a car at the right speed round a loop the loop so I didn’t fall off, standing in front of a wrecking ball as it swung towards me, diving off a bridge attached to an untested bungee chord. In the end we went for The Ball of Death. I had to calculate the trajectory of a massive ball as it was shot down a ramp. Using my maths I had to work out where to stand to avoid being crushed by the ball. Ominously the plan was to make this the last day of filming…just in case I got my sums wrong. See how well I did in this, the final episode.

You too will have to master the maths of projectiles if you are going to make it to the end of the Code Challenge. Our online game for this episode, Kingdom of Catapults, requires you to predict the path of flying fruit to knock out an invading army that wants to capture your castle. Use your maths to defeat the enemy and you’ll release another clue on the way to cracking the Code Challenge.

Another game that involves spotting patterns to predict the future is rock, paper, scissors. To see how good the champions are at reading patterns in their opponents we travelled to the Raven Lounge in downtown Philadelphia to film at the famous Rock Paper Scissors League Championship that is held there each week.

Although it didn’t make the cut I was also entered into the competition to put my own pattern searching abilities to the test. Each competitor needs their own individual RPS name to enter the league. Regulars include Paper Tiger, Slanted Scissors and Silly Putty. I decided to try some academic intimidation and plumped for The Professor. I got through several rounds but eventually met my match in the quarter-finals where I got knocked out by Dick Nasty.

Dick Nasty, Marcus's opponent at the Rock, Paper, Scissors Qualifying League in Philadelphia.

Dick Nasty, Marcus's opponent at the Rock, Paper, Scissors Qualifying League in Philadelphia.

It was when he put out his hand to commiserate me on my exit from the competition that I noticed a rather curious tattoo on his arm: a collection of squares of different sizes corresponding to the numbers 1,1,2,3,5,8,13 with a Fibonacci spiral traced through them. If I was going to be knocked out of the competition it was no dishonour to lose to someone who was prepared to mark his body permanently with the wonders of The Code.

I hope you enjoyed the series and best of luck with the rest of the challenge. After this episode you should be able to find all the clues you need to unlock the second stage, and from there you could be in with a chance to get into the final!


  • Comment number 1.

    There are some interesting parts to this episode, but what was all that about the lemming population? The formula Marcus said related the next year's population, P(next), to this year's population, P, was nonsense - it would give a negative population:

    P(next) = RxPx(1-P).

    When P is 2 or more, (1-P) is negative.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Re: the formula P(next) = RxPx(1-P), it seems to work if a variable, k (say), is introduced to represent the maximum sustainable population (food limitations etc.)

    Then P(next) = RxPx(1-P/k) works as stated in the programme, with approximately 3.57 being the tipping point.

  • Comment number 4.

    I wanted to explore this aspect using Excel so I await the explanation with interest.

  • Comment number 5.

    Have a read of this article by Marcus du Sautoy in The Times


    (it seems you will need to copy and paste the link as the BBC has become confused by the symbols.)

  • Comment number 6.

    Thanks BBC. Thought-provoking and well made, as is the accompanying web-site activites. It would be great to see more programming like this.

  • Comment number 7.

    Excellent and interesting programme – but I still find De Sautoy rather arrogant to be suggesting that everything there is can and will eventually be explainable by mathematics. He is another new materialist – a brilliant thinker like Dawkins and Hawking – but he just seems unable to see that his world view can never embrace all that there is – for example:
    1. It does not explain the origin of time and the universe
    2. It does not explain why anything exists – it only deals with process not purpose
    3. It does not explain what consciousness is or the nature of thoughts
    4. It does not explain what beauty is and the purpose of music
    5. It does not explain our moral sense of right and wrong
    6. It cannot explain sacrificial love -- which ultimately sets us apart from the animal kingdom
    This is why God’s existence is essential – not to explain those scientific phenomena which we still cannot understand - the "eclipses" of our time – but to answer the age old question of why we are here at all.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think a less "simplified" explanation of the Lemmings equation can be seen on the wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logistic_map
    or ...
    for the P(next) = RxPx(1-P) formula to work think of P as being a value of population to its maximum sustainable; a value between 0 and 1.


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