Mathematical games and puzzles at Lisbon’s Science Museum.jpg

Mathematical games and puzzles at Lisbon’s Science Museum

By Chris Graeme

I HAVE to say that maths has never been my cup of tea; in fact when it comes to mathematical brain teasers and problems, I have the brain capacity and attention span of a goldfish!

But History, now there’s another thing, and who would have thought that the history of maths and some of its games could be so absorbing.

And so when I met well-known Lisbon University maths professor Dr. Jorge Nuno Silva at an American Club luncheon who told me that his exhibition Mathematical Games Throughout the Times might be both absorbing and fun, I still wasn’t convinced and so asked a local maths boffin to accompany me and explain some of the puzzles on display.

The exhibition, which has 10 games in all, is small and compact and ideal to take the kids along to on a wet Saturday or Sunday afternoon for some mental gymnastics.

There’s Ludus Regularis – a pious game of chance invented in 10th century France to give religious members the opportunity to play games of chance given that they were forbidden to gamble or play common dice games. Its inventor, Bishop Wibolt, aimed at confronting the 56 virtues – from Charity (1-1-1) to Humility (6-6-6), sequenced by the result of throwing three dice from 3-18.

Then there is Ludus Globi – The Path to God, designed by 15th century German philosopher Nicholas of Cusa who created this game with a spiritual purpose. The sphere with a cavity that each player throws has a spiral movement until it stops and the objective is to stop the sphere as close as possible to the centre of the board.

A somewhat older classic, I am told, is that old chestnut Stomachion, invented around 2200 years ago by Archimedes. This was a puzzle that was lost to mankind until the early 20th century because it had been archived for centuries in the Saba Monastery in Constantinople.

Called the Palimpsest it was finally unearthed again in 1906 by a John Ludwig Heiberg and sold at auction for two million dollars to an anonymous individual for research at Stamford University.

I think I’ll go home now and contemplate the medicinal properties of a good cup of English tea!

What: Mathematical Games throughout Time

Where: Lisbon Science Museum (Floor 2), Rua da Escola Politecnica, 56

When: Tuesdays to Fridays 10am-5pm and Saturdays and Sundays 11am-6pm