Culture Schools


    Home school club: can you get this Bill Gates maths joke?

    27 May 2020

    This week it’s our final home school club, as from next week the nation’s actual schools will begin to re-open. We hope you’ve enjoyed these facts over the last couple of months. But more than that, we hope the experience has shown you that ‘education’ doesn’t just equal ‘school’. It’s certainly not about passing exams for the sake of it, or learning lists of facts just because a teacher tells you to.

    If you find your own way into a subject, different from the approach a teacher has been taking, go and tell them about it. If they’re halfway decent, they’ll love your initiative. And don’t think of this attitude as something you’ll leave behind when you finish school. Education is something that carries on your whole life – it’s your way of making sense of that life.

    So don’t be afraid of ‘fun’ facts. It’s a horribly loaded term, implying these are the facts that don’t matter. But actually they’re the memorable facts, the ones that make you laugh and go ‘wow!’ … and then ask ‘really, why?’ And those are the facts that will seriously open things up for you. Happy schooling, everyone.


    Your brain can recognise words even when their middle letters are jumbled up. As long as the first and last letters are in the right place, the word still jumps out at you. Tath’s why yuo’re siltl albe to raed tihs stnecnee aolmst as wlel as the frsit two, eevn tuohgh its wrdos hvae been smclbared.


    Our final maths fact is actually a joke. Bill Gates walks into a bar. There are four guys slumped over their beers. But when they see Gates, they jump up and start celebrating. ‘Why are you so happy?’ asks Gates. One of them replies: ‘Don’t you realise what you’ve done to our average income?’

    What does this tell you about averages, and why you have to be so careful with them?


    The bank holiday got its name because only by forcing banks to close could you ensure that it worked. A vague title like ‘general’ or ‘national’ holiday could have allowed employers to carry on as usual.

    Bank holidays were the idea of Sir John Lubbock, a wonderfully eccentric Victorian MP. He was obsessed with animals. Once, having bought two ferrets in London, he took them home on the train to Kent. When they nibbled through their sack and began upsetting other passengers, Lubbock put them in his briefcase. He later discovered that they had eaten his parliamentary papers.


    A street artist paints the Mona Lisa

    When the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in Paris in 1911, queues formed to see the empty space on the wall where it used to hang.

    One of the people questioned by police was the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, who had been implicated by someone else. It turned out that both were innocent. The real culprit was an Italian employee at the Louvre who thought the painting should be returned to his (and Leonardo da Vinci’s) native country. He had hidden in a broom closet, then smuggled the painting out under his coat after the museum closed.


    Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds

    There are 53 ‘Thankful Villages’ in England and Wales – villages that lost none of their residents during the fighting of World War I.

    Of these, 14 are ‘Doubly Thankful’, meaning they lost no one during World War II either. One of them, in Gloucestershire, happens to be called Upper Slaughter.

    France had an even worse World War I – there is only one village (Thierville, near Rouen) whose residents all survived.


    Tim Kopra of NASA is carried to a medical tent after he and Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos and Tim Peake of the European Space Agency landed in their Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft in a remote area on June 18, 2016 (Getty)

    When astronauts on the International Space Station return to Earth, they are slightly younger than they would have been without going into space.

    This is because (as Albert Einstein showed with his theory of relativity) time itself runs slower when you travel at very high speeds. For someone who spends six months on the ISS, the effect is about 0.005 seconds.

    The same effect explains why GPS satellites have to fractionally alter their readings when they communicate with your smartphone or sat-nav. Because their time is running at a different speed from yours, if they didn’t make the correction your position on the map would soon be wrong.