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Edinburgh Fringe 2015

Festival of the Spoken Nerd – Just For Graphs

Phil McIntyre Entertainments

Genre: Spoken Word

Venue: Assembly George Square


Low Down

Exciting science is to many people an oxymoron. But to a nerd, it’s nirvana. What better, then, than an hour laced with spreadsheets, irreverent asides, science focused songs, number squares, an anti-Mexican wave and a lot of spectacular pyrotechnics.


I’m a nerd. Anyone who can quote scores from Ashes Tests (that’s cricket to the non-sporty) going back over a hundred years and sequence British prime ministers since the start of the 20th Century must, frankly, be pretty odd. So that’s what attracted me to this particular show – the chance to spend an hour being entertained by like-minded oddballs. And, given the conversation on the way in was focused on how to get Excel “if” tests to colour-program cells, I knew I was in nerd-land nirvana.

Our rebellious nerd trio of Helen Arney, Matt Parker and Steve Mould struck an immediate accord with the packed Assembly One George Square audience by telling them to ignore any announcements concerning the need to turn phones off. Nerds are apparently well known for feeling insecure if they are not connected to the internet or otherwise able to communicate with fellow nerds electronically.

So began an hour of fascinating science in which our trio excelled (get it?) with their spreadsheets, irreverent asides, science focused songs, number squares, an anti-Mexican wave and a lot of spectacular pyrotechnics.

Experiments included getting the audience to demonstrate both wave and anti-wave theory and how there’s a point at which you get a standing wave, with zero movement. Fascinating. Then it was onto parabolas, and how to make one with fire, although this bit appeared by way of video given the twitchiness of the local fire brigade. A diversion to explore the limitations of Venn diagrams and how Euler’s versions are simpler and more easily understood was followed by an interesting experiment conducted by Steve Mould on using the ability of Excel to model the standard deviation of his wife’s contractions to come up with a birth prediction time for their first child. Anyone with a pregnant wife might, however, care to consider the long term effects on their marriage before deploying this particular statistical technique. At the time of going to press, the views of Mrs Mould on this experiment were not appropriate for publication.

It was all very entertaining as well as being educational. Knowledge is nothing without the ability to communicate it, as I often remind my daughter who has just finished a PhD in a truly esoteric branch of theoretical physics that has gone beyond nerdity to full geekdom.

And that’s where these guys really score. They reduce the complex to something easily understandable, communicate it with real skill and passion and then pull the audience into the science. In other words, practice first, theory second. And judging from the goggle-eyed looks of awe on the faces of the audience, it works. Entertain and you can educate.

Highly recommended for anyone who’s even a tiny bit nerdy or who perhaps has a suppressed passion for understanding how things work. Well worth a look for those of you nearer the middle of the normality Bell curve, who perhaps fancy an hour to stretch the brain. The brain is, after all, a muscle. Use it or lose it!