Maths I saw on my holidays


I’ve just come back from a lovely long weekend in the Netherlands. We stayed in Zwolle, capital of the Overijssel province, and also visited Ommen, Giethoorn, Zutphen, and we stopped off in Utrecht on our way home. Of course I kept my eyes open for maths while I was away! Some of the pictures are only mathematical in a very tenuous way but I hope you enjoy them anyway. Click on the photos for bigger versions.

First, the obligatory Dutch windmill shot. The sails look a little like a plus sign – that’s mathematical, right?

Next, a couple of floor patterns, one from a department store and another found on a pavement outside a supermarket.

There’s loads of maths in this photo of a cheese shop! How many cheeses? How many kilograms of cheese? How far would I have to jog to burn off the calories if I ate it all?

I loved these cute little mushroom shaped signs showing the distances to nearby places. Note the European comma where we would put a dot for the decimal point.

Right by the mushroom sign was a hexagonal cycle route sign. The world should have more hexagonal signs.

Next, a couple of clocks. I love clocks, particularly station clocks and clock towers with bells. I learned that the Dutch word for clock is ‘Klok’.

If you look very carefully at the packaging for the mini waffle I got with my cup of coffee, you’ll see a tiny diagram showing that it has a diameter of 4.5cm! Ideal if you want to compare waffle sizes between different cafes.

The waffle diameter cafe also had these brilliant salt and pepper pots. I’m not sure how you tell which is which. Is salt a 5 sort of condiment or more of a 3?

Our hotel lift pleasingly used the negative numbering convention for floors below the ground floor:

In the UK we have signs saying ‘No Under 18s’. In the Netherlands, they use a strictly less than < sign instead:

Finally, when I’m not being a mathematician I dabble in music. We saw a wonderful display of harmonicas in a shop window, including this fabulous six-sided harmonica :

Alas, the shop was closed so I couldn’t buy it.

What do you think of the photos? Which ones are the most mathematical? What maths have you spotted on holiday?

You are welcome to use and share these photos for non-commercial purposes, as long as you credit me and link to this post.

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12 Responses to “Maths I saw on my holidays”

  1. Les Says:

    Excellent – what a fresh way of looking at things. And it shows the Netherlands is mountainous in character.

  2. Nicholas Kiddle (@ksej) Says:

    I would guess 3 for salt, simply because salt shakers tend to have fewer holes than pepper shakers. But being a scientist rather than a mathematician, I’d test my intuition by shaking a small amount out šŸ˜‰

    That reminds me of Luis’s “weird condiment dispenser”, which I seem to remember you said I’d have to go to Holland to fill up?

    • Alison Says:

      As it was, I didn’t want salt or pepper, or I’d have probably let my inner scientist out and followed your solution!
      We didn’t see any weird condiments on this trip šŸ™‚

  3. Greg P Says:

    The station clock looks a little like the type they have in Germany, in which the second hand completes 360 degrees in 59 seconds, but then pauses for a second before clicking over to 0 at the same time the minute hand moves. (Of course, this means it’s only correct once every minute.) Was it one of those?

  4. Marina Isaac Says:

    Having worked at a cheese distributor I can imagine lots of cheese-related maths, but won’t bore you with it!

    Regarding the ‘<' sign, a student recently mentioned to me that when he was taught the inequality signs the teacher suggested that one way to remember which number on either side of such a symbol was larger was to imagine the sign as a crocodile opening its mouth to eat something. This seems a bit topsy turvy to me, given that a chunk of food would have to be considerably smaller than the crocodile before it could be eaten by the croc.

    Has anyone else come across bizare mnemonics for mathematical symbols?

  5. Nicholas Kiddle (@ksej) Says:

    Oooh yes, we had that one. The crocodile turns its back on the smaller quantity and opens its mouth to swallow the larger quantity. I used to use that to help me remember, but now it’s been drummed into my head that “less-than-three” is ā¤

  6. Alison Says:

    Yes, I had the same thing (perhaps Nick and I had the same teacher??) I’ve never found mnemonics particularly useful, I just remember mathematics through use and seeing it used, so the mnemonic got in the way for me because when I was thinking about sizes of quantities I suddenly had to stop and start thinking about crocodiles! I realise now it’s because I don’t think in a particularly visual way.

  7. Firas Sawaf Says:

    The lift photo made me think, what sort of a hotel would have floors denoted with imaginary numbers? Hotel California perhaps?

  8. Joe Cool Says:

    Hi Alison, as both a native Dutchman and math lover I am pleased that you liked my country, particularly in the ‘math way’. Never thought of some of these things that way, but it helps my keeping an open mind for math ‘in the wild’.

    • Alison Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Joe. The Netherlands is one of our favourite places to visit, because it’s so easy to get to on the ferry, and my boyfriend speaks a little Dutch so we can make ourselves understood on the rare occasions that we meet someone whose English isn’t impeccable!

  9. Carolyn Labarr Says:

    Maths I saw on my holidays | Alison Kiddle

    […]Take some time to essentially image them in your thoughts.[…]

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