Famed stand-up comedian and television presenter Dara O’Briain has teamed up with Oxford’s Professor Marcus du Sautoy in his latest television programme. The new show, School of Hard Sums, airs Mondays at 8pm on Dave and uses maths, science and logic to solve real-world problems. It claims to present science in an interesting and accessible way and O’Briain believes there is a growing movement that is “tired of nonsense-peddlers” which will be interested in a program focusing on “the language of reason and rationality.”
Despite his comedic presence, O’Briain does not expect to be able to make science ‘cool’ and conceded to Radio Times that the show is a “weird punt” that might later be referred to as “Dara’s folly”. However, he was confident that it would find its niche. O’Briain studied Maths and Theoretical Physics at University College, Dublin and will use his “rusty” skills alongside Professor du Sautoy, Oxford’s Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, in breaking down these everyday puzzles.
Neither host is new to this type of science-oriented program. Dara O’Briain recently hosted the BBC program Stargazing Live, appearing alongside renowned scientist and television presence Brian Cox. Professor du Sautoy, meanwhile, presented the BBC’s The Code last year, a three-part documentary about “maths in the world around us.”
Even away from television, du Sautoy is no stranger to using maths pragmatically. Earlier this year, he led a series of projects which aimed to show the hidden maths behind Oxford’s buildings, while last year, he reached the semi-final of the world rock-paper-scissors championship using the decimal expansion of pi.
Some of his latest show’s mystifying conundrums include the finding the optimum angle to jump into a river and save a drowning man, as well as how to maximise your number of pizza slices if you are only allowed to cut it three times. Logic is also used to deduce which door to pass through in the event of a choice between the exit and certain death.
The first program explored how a constellation could be created with four stars equidistant from one another, while the next showed how to efficiently pave the way for mollycoddled cows keen to keep their feet clean. The Oxford student body seems excited by this attempt to broaden interest in the field of science and mathematics. Dale Rout, a first-year Mathematics student at St Peter’s College commented: “Maths is more accessible than a lot of people think and Dara is really funny so I reckon it’ll be pretty successful.”
Each show in the eight-part series approaches a particular theme and will also include appearances from comedy guests, including Alex Horne, David O’Doherty, Simon Evans and Jason Byrne.