Here is a book you can not only read but also play, like a game. Think of the eighty numbered games it covers as squares on a board. You can throw a six-sided dice and turn to the game the dice indicates (throw a four, move to game four), read the relevant chapter, then throw again to move on to the next game, all the time keeping track of your movements on the handy table at the back of the book. Each reader can thereby create a different journey through the book, and the possibilities are, well, endless. As calculated by the author, the number of permutations is a figure with sixty-one digits. For the purposes of comparison, the number of seconds that have passed since the Big Bang only has eighteen digits. This is just one of many mind-boggling calculations that Marcus du Sautoy comes up with in his ludic journey around the world, following roughly in the footsteps of Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg – who was himself a compulsive player of whist.
Whist is, as you might expect, one of the games du Sautoy considers: it’s number twenty-eight, followed by bridge, and appears in the chapter in which