Johnny Ball Reveals All About Ancient Games At Segedunum

By Alastair Smith | 22 March 2005
Shows a photograph of Johnny Ball drawing with a blue pen on a white sheet of paper mounted on a wall.

The trademark smile and dazzling number trickery came into play as Johnny Ball gave a talk about ancient games. Photo: Alastair Smith. © 24 Hour Museum.

Television scientist Johnny Ball paid a visit to Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum to present a talk on Board Games, Luck and Probability as part of Newcastle Science Festival.

Organised to coincide with the Across the Board exhibition, which features the famous Lewis Chessmen and is on show at Segedunum until June 16 2005, tickets to the event were sold out.

However, the lucky few were able to discuss the history of games, their mathematical roots and possible origins, with the TV legend.

"I think it’s wonderful that you get the kids out and you show them that there is a lot more to science than there is in the curriculum," Johnny told the 24 Hour Museum. "That’s the most important thing."

Shows a photo of some detailed medieval ivory chess pieces.

Ancient players: the Lewis chessmen. © The Trustees of The British Museum.

Both children and adults joined in with the games and puzzles, some of which were hundreds of years old.

Among the diverse subjects covered were pub games such as ‘spoof’ and ‘dominoes’, the influence of the Babylonian calendar and the use of binary numbers.

The former science and maths presenter who has written and presented 23 solo television series discussed the theories put forward in Gavin Menzies’ book 1421. In the book Menzies argued that Chinese navigators visited America as early as 1421, which could explain the migration of some games from China to North and South America.

The talk also underlined the importance of science and mathematics in education and the way that society is using science in all tasks.

Shows a photograph of Johnny Ball holding out a length of string with two rows of cards with numbers written on them.

Photo: Alastair Smith. © 24 Hour Museum.

"Everything is a science today," said Johnny. "Gymnastics is a science, that’s why people in the Cirque Du Soleil have been able to do things that they haven’t been able to do before. Their bodies do things that they couldn’t do until computers could analyse them and tell them how the body works."

Puzzles were also used to show children that maths can be a useful tool and by understanding number patterns they could even outsmart their parents and gain extra pocket money.

Worried parents listened as Johnny explained that instead of asking for weekly pocket money of five pounds, they could start by asking for a penny on the first of the month and doubling the amount every day.

Although this might seem like a cheaper option for parents, by doing this children could earn almost £11 million in just 30 days!

Shows the Renaissance in the Regions logo.

Alastair Smith is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer in the North East region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

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