Mark Mason

Mark Mason talks about trivia via books, articles, guided walks and the pub.

Why we love to be baffled

So much of life is a search for answers. How to get ahead, how to earn more money, how to be happy. But deep down, is there a part of us that likes not knowing an answer? Do we sometimes want to be baffled? It’s a question that’s come to fascinate me as I’ve embarked

What I resent about my dog

The main benefits of dog ownership are well-known – you get companionship, unconditional love and the exercise that comes with taking the thing for a walk. But there’s a side-effect that no one ever mentions: having a dog teaches you what it’s like to be famous. I’ll be sitting in a café, happily reading a

Why do people make excuses for surly staff?

‘You grab that table, I’ll get the drinks.’ I did as bid. A couple of minutes later, Paul was back, beers in hand, and we started chatting. Soon the member of staff who’d served him appeared. She was stony-faced and holding a card machine. ‘You didn’t pay,’ she said. Paul looked confused for a second,

Game theories: is the head vs heart distinction real?

When you play a game – cards, backgammon, chess – should you listen to your head or your heart? Do you sit there coldly calculating the odds, or do you go with a hunch, gut instinct, your sixth sense? It’s a question I’m discussing with Marcus du Sautoy as we sit in the Beaumont Hotel

The thrill of busking

They are, to quote Mark Knopfler, down in the tunnel trying to make it pay. Transport for London has this week been holding auditions for buskers, assessing the performers for licences that allow access to pitches on the Tube and, for the first time, the Elizabeth line. It’s a bureaucratic approach to a traditionally informal

Cricket is one of the best anti-depressants

I love it when the England cricket team flies east in the winter. It means they’re playing in the early morning, UK time, and that’s just when I need them the most. Because cricket is a powerful antidepressant. Without the sound or sight of bat on ball, early mornings at the moment would hold their

Why criminals love a tunnel

What is it about a tunnel that excites us so? Last week’s story about the secret one in a New York synagogue fascinated the world, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that no one knew why the thing had been built in the first place. Police attempted to close it, and indeed fill it

Flavour of the month: January – robots, Dr Who and The Beatles

Welcome to the month that faces backwards to last year and forwards to this – which is why it’s named after Janus, the Roman god of transitions, who himself has two faces. Read on to discover January’s trivia, including a joke from Stevie Wonder, a mistake by David Blunkett’s officials, and the reason Heather Mills

Is Keir Starmer too boring to be prime minister?

‘What do you know about Keir Starmer?’ My friend’s question came as we sat in the pub. It was part of an experiment, based on something he’d noticed. ‘Used to be Director of Public Prosecutions,’ I replied. ‘That’s the first thing everyone says. Anything else?’ ‘Er …’  John gave me a prompt: ‘Is he married? Does

The biggest music feuds of all time

Sad news from the Hall and Oates camp, where ‘I Can’t Go For That’ has become ‘I Can’t Go Within A Specified Distance of You’, Daryl Hall having taken out a restraining order on John Oates. Actually, we don’t know whether a distance is specified, as the details of the order remain secret. But we

Are Ouija boards really that scary?

The name is the only clue you need. The French and German words for ‘yes’ show that the board will always tell you what you want to hear. Mind you, Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard, who invented the Ouija board for their novelty games company, claimed that Bond’s sister-in-law, a spiritualist, was given the name

Why the Square Mile beats Canary Wharf

When a building’s construction requires the closure of a nearby airport, you know that the building is tall. But that’s the thing about the Square Mile at the moment – it’s so successful that the only way is up. The cranes on 22 Bishopsgate (rather than the building itself) reached such a height, as the

We should all embrace the power of games

If both players in a game of draughts stick to their optimal moves, the game will always end in a draw. You or I might have guessed that anecdotally. But being a mathematician, Marcus du Sautoy knows it for sure. The calculations that proved it took 200 desktop computers 18 years to perform. The Prussian

The greatest – and strangest – prison breaks in history

Poor old Daniel Khalife. He must have thought his exit from HMP Wandsworth, hidden underneath a delivery van, would win ‘Most Creative Prison Escape of the Week’. But actually that title had already been nabbed by Danelo Cavalcante, who stood in a narrow external passageway at Pennsylvania’s Chester County prison, leaned forward so his hands

A beginner’s guide to buying a guitar

Thinking of adding another six strings to your bow? You wouldn’t be alone – lockdown inspired plenty of people to learn the guitar. The trend may have lessened as people return to the office, but it has still meant UK and European sales for the guitar maker Fender are £5 million higher than before Covid.