This event has now finished.
  • Date and time: Tuesday 4 June 2024, 6pm to 7.15pm
  • Location: In-person only
    Eagle and Child, High Petergate (Map)
  • Admission: Free admission, booking not required

Event details

Just before the year 800, Alcuin of York sent Charlemagne a collection of arithmetical puzzles which he said were to be solved for fun. The puzzles he referred to are assumed to correspond to a collection of ‘Puzzles to Sharpen the Wits’ which survive in over a dozen medieval manuscripts.

The actual puzzles themselves are far older, however, and can be traced back to sources from Ancient Greece and Rome and beyond. The material would now be characterised as recreational mathematics. It includes problems that are still found in modern books of brain teasers.

Join physicist James Lees of the University of York and mathematician Pierre-Philippe Dechant of the University of Leeds who will serve as quizmasters for a an informal session in the ancient and medieval arithmetical gymnasium. Historian Mary Garrison will introduce the event with a short account of Alcuin and the puzzles.

About the speakers

Dr James Lees is an Associate Lecturer with the University of York’s School of Physics, Engineering and Technology. Alongside his work as a scientist James has a keen interest in science communication and outreach where he has worked extensively on the history of science and mathematics publishing several books.

Dr Pierre-Philippe Dechant is a Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, University of Leeds, where he lectured on the History of Mathematics last autumn and is setting up his second data science degree. His interest in science communication started with Pint of Science, where he was first City Coordinator for York and then Chapter Manager for Yorkshire & the Humber for many years. Mary got him interested in Alcuin's puzzles - many moons ago!

Dr Mary Garrison is a Lecturer in the History Department and at the Centre for Medieval Studies in York; she has published extensively on literature and learning in the early middle ages and has a mission to reintroduce Alcuin to York and vice-versa.


University of York

Venue details

  • Not wheelchair accessible