Hate math? You’ll still love this cornucopia of simple-yet-seductive math games

Amusing hand-drawn instructions for pen-and-paper game.

Enlarge / Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe is at heart a game of fractal structure, per math teacher Ben Orlin, author of Math Games with Bad Drawings. Players must balance two levels, an element that requires them to "Think globally, act locally." (credit: Ben Orlin)

In 1974, a geneticist named Marsha Jean Falco devised an ingenious research tool to help determine whether epilepsy in dogs was an inherited trait. She drew a series of symbols on index cards, where each card represented a dog and each symbol represented a DNA sequence, to create her own coding system. But as she shuffled and reshuffled the index cards over time, she began seeing the deck in terms of pure abstract patterns and combinations.

Eventually her personal coding system became the game of Set—just one of the many math-y games included in math teacher and bestselling author Ben Orlin's new book, Math Games with Bad Drawings. (You can read an excerpt and try your hand at a game of Quantum Go Fish here.)

Orlin's first book, Math with Bad Drawings, after his blog of the same name, was published in 2018. It included such highlights as placing a discussion of the correlation coefficient and "Anscombe's Quartet" into the world of Harry Potter and arguing that building the Death Star in the shape of a sphere may not have been the Galatic Empire's wisest move. We declared it "a great, entertaining read for neophytes and math fans alike, because Orlin excels at finding novel ways to connect the math to real-world problems—or in the case of the Death Star, to problems in fictional worlds."

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