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Professor Povey's Perplexing Problems

Pre-University Physics and Maths Puzzles with Solutions

In Professor Povey's Perplexing Problems, Thomas Povey shares 109 of his favourite problems in physics and maths. A tour de force of imagination and exposition, he takes us by the hand and guides us through uncompromisingly challenging territory that expands our minds and encourages a playful and exploratory approach to study. The puzzles, he says, are like toys. We should pick up the one we most enjoy, and play with it.

Whether you are an aspiring scientist or an old-hand, pitting yourself against these problems will test your ability to think, and inspire you with curiosity and enthusiasm for physics. Presented with charm and wit, the questions span the gap between high-school and university-entrance standard material. Detailed answers are lightened with a fascinating and refreshing blend of scientific history, application and personal anecdote.

On this delightful and idiosyncratic romp through pre-university maths and physics, the author shows us that behind every single one of these questions lies a new way of thinking about subjects we thought we had understood. He argues that engaging with the unfamiliar is key to forming deeper insights and developing intellectual independence. Professor Povey's Perplexing Problems is a manifesto that science should be playful, and a celebration of the curious.

'A great book for entertaining and educating anyone with an interest in puzzles'.

– Mathematics Today

‘Quirky… impressive… whether you want to learn some new methods or brush up on old skills, this book is a fun way to do it’

– BBC Focus

‘Intriguing… What it does, and does very successfully, is explain the style of thinking and analysis interviewers are seeking… This isn’t your run-of-the-mill puzzle book’

– E&T Magazine

'If you fancy doing physics, maths or engineering at university - or wish you once had - it is an absolute must-have buy.'

– Brian Clegg, Popular Science

‘Povey collects his favorite “pre-university” problems in math and physics and presents them informally in a welcoming style… Highly recommended.’

– ALA CHOICE Magazine

‘Strong’s exhaustive study of Buddhisms is both accessible and informative. The volume’s greatest strength is the vast detail and breadth of Buddhism that it manages to cover while preserving a sense of what makes Buddhism what it is across a variety of geographic and temporal ranges. The breadth of the book notwithstanding, Strong does well to express the personal experience of Buddhism, and it is clear that this work is the result of decades of research.’

– ALA CHOICE Magazine

'By challenging students with unfamiliar but engaging problems, I hope Professor Povey inspires many more budding physicists and mathematicians to realise their potential.'

– Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust

‘Entry to selective universities will often require students to demonstrate that they have engaged in super-curricular activities which develop their awareness and understanding of their subject. Tom Povey has provided in this book enough super-curricular content to keep an aspiring mathematician, physicist, engineer or material scientist (and their teachers) happy for months. For a parent or teacher who wants to pro-actively support a student in preparing for entry to a competitive science or maths course this is a no-brainer purchase.’

– Mike Nicholson, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach, University of Oxford (2006-14), Director of Student Recruitment and Admissions, University of Bath

‘This instructive book will allow aspiring young scientists to test and expand their knowledge of physics and mathematics, and gain greater confidence in their abilities.’

– Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith FRS, Director General of CERN (1994-98)

‘This book is about the excitement of mathematics and physics at the school/university boundary. It contains a remarkable collection of intriguing intellectual challenges, all with complete solutions. You can read it to increase your ability in maths and physics; you can read it to develop your problem-solving skills; but most of all you can read it for fun.’

– Professor Richard Prager, Head of the School of Technology, University of Cambridge

‘A real tour de force of scientific problems. Thomas Povey is clearly a master at this kind of conundrum ... Fascinating.’

– John Farndon, author of Do You Think You're Clever?