Mark Mason

Before becoming a writer, I did jobs as varied as selling Christmas cards in Harrods, playing guitar in a blues band that toured Europe, and making radio programmes for the BBC. Wherever I went, though, I found it was always the trivia that excited me most. The intriguing stuff, the little facts that slip down the back of life's sofa. So I've ended up as the sort of guy who knows that Harrods dropped their apostrophe in 1921 (Sainsbury's still haven't) ... that Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents ... that The Archers theme tune was produced by a young George Martin ... It's an attitude that keeps life interesting, I find, whatever you're up to at any particular point in time, whether you're living in the West End of London (as I used to), or a village in Suffolk (as I do now).

Mark Mason

Content

Rubik's Cube

A Rubik’s cube has more combinations than light travels inches in a century. This is my favourite illustration of how a very small number of factors can produce an absurdly complicated situation. A silly little toy, with only three squares in each of its three dimensions. How can that get complicated? Well, as anyone who's ever tried to solve one just by guessing will tell you, it gets very complicated. The number of possible combinations is 43,252,003,274,489,856,000. Forget billions - that's 43 quintillion and change. (In fact the cube's manufacturers just said ‘billions' in their advertising, figuring that no one would know what a quintillion was. It's a billion billion.) The number of inches light travels in a century, meanwhile, is a mere 37,165,049,856,000,000,000. Or thereabouts.