personal finance

Bobby Seagull’s Christmas Quiz 

Turkey with sprouts, trees with tinsel, mince pies with mulled wine, quiz questions with answers. Spot the odd one out?

Correct! You’ll have to wait until next year to see the solutions to my money and maths quiz below — but if you enter and get all the answers right, there are some great prizes up for grabs.

I have designed this quiz for families to do together, so I’m hoping that yours enjoy a brain workout as much as mine do. 

After unwrapping our presents, feasting on Christmas lunch and absorbing the wisdom of the Queen’s Christmas Message, we Seagulls traditionally hold our annual family quiz.

Each family member comes up with a round of questions to test our recall of the year with categories such as politics, sport, music and business. This year, I’ve prepared a family-specific round with questions including which artist inspired my brother Davey’s first art exhibition Living With Spinal Cord Injury (take a look at his website and have a guess). 

Quizzing is ingrained in the fabric of our nation. Just look at the popularity of TV shows like The Chase, Pointless and University Challenge, where I rose to prominence as captain of the Emmanuel College Cambridge team — until we were narrowly defeated by Eric Monkman’s Wolfson Cambridge in the 2017 semi-finals. 

My love of quizzing has since earned me a slot on Radio 4’s Today programme — if you tune in at around 6.50am, you will often wake up to sound of one of my morning maths puzzles. Until he stepped down earlier this year, John Humphrys usually read them out with (dare I say it) not the most positive outlook on maths. 

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In the new year, you’ll be able to watch me trying to impress him with my knowledge of maths and football on Celebrity Mastermind where my specialist subject will be England at Fifa World Cups.

I’ll also be pitting my wits against 14 famous quiz contestants, including Mr Monkman, for a one-off show called Quizmaster presented by Jeremy Vine on ITV on December 29. 

So what does it take to be a successful quizzer? Diligence, attention to detail, understanding the format of the quiz and an ability to favour your head over your heart. Curiously, I think that these traits have also helped me to competently manage my own personal finances over the years.

Now it’s time for you and your family to test your maths skills (calculators are optional). Five lucky winners who answer all of the questions below correctly will get a signed copy of my book The Life-Changing Magic of Numbers. The entry with the best tiebreaker question, in the opinion of the judges, will get the chance to have their idea turned into an article in a future edition of FT Money. So let’s get quizzing! 

Quiz questions

I am a maths teacher at Little Ilford School in east London where one of my Year 9 students, Carl Hill, won our school’s termly “Puzzle of the Week” competition — so I’ve used it for my first question: 

1. The school is having a Christmas sale, and giving a 40 per cent discount on school uniform. A student pays £50 in total for three school jumpers and receives £10.40 in change. What was the original price for one school jumper?

The second series of my geeky travel series, Monkman & Seagull’s Genius Adventures comes out on BBC Two next year. In the first series, we visited William Gladstone’s Library in Flintshire, founded by the great Victorian statesman and four-times prime minister. 

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2. Gladstone wheeled his original collection of books three-quarters of a mile between his home and the library. Assuming he had 160 shelving units, each with 10 rows containing 20 books each, how many books did he originally have?

The next two questions are about the Financial Times; you might need to do a little detective work online to find out the answers:

3. A gigantic astronomical clock guards the entrance to the FT offices at Bracken House in London. If an FT journalist has to submit their article to a tight deadline at 4pm on the December 31, which sign of the zodiac would be aligned with the number four on the clock? And as a bonus question — whose face is in the middle of the clock? 

The astronomical clock at the FT’s Bracken House offices in London © Charlie Bibby

4. The FT hit 1m subscribers on April 1 2019. Assuming the number of subscribers grows at an annual rate of 5 per cent, in what year will it break the 2m barrier? 

I’ve taken my next three questions from the National Numeracy Challenge, an online quiz that more than a quarter of a million people have taken to test and improve their numeracy skills.

Only 22 per cent of working-age adults in England are functionally numerate, according to a recent report by the charity — a figure that I am determined to increase. If you can guess these, why not take the full test?

5. Three pieces of gold weight 5.5g, 3.2g and 8.3g. If gold costs £25 per gram, what is the total cost of all three pieces? 

6. My bicycle wheels have a diameter of 65cm. How many rotations will the wheels make when I cycle 2km? 

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7. What is the smallest possible number of coins you need to make 73p?

My final question and tiebreaker are about personal finance — an area of our lives that we should all be asking more questions about! 

8. You fill the Isa allowance of £20,000 annually from age 18. Assuming compound growth of 5 per cent, how many years will it take you to become an Isa millionaire? And for a bonus point, how many more years would it take if the annual growth rate dropped to 4 per cent?

Having met plenty of FT readers over the years, I know how highly numerate you are. I expect many of you will correctly answer all eight questions (and two bonus questions) so I thought I’d put in a short tiebreaker question: 

I have a small cameo role in this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (8pm on Boxing Day on BBC Four) hosted by Dr Hannah Fry. This year, the theme is the hidden power of maths. In less than 200 words, what would your idea be for an FT Christmas lecture based on the hidden power of personal finance?

To enter, please email marking your email “Christmas Quiz” listing the 10 answers and tiebreaker by the deadline of Monday January 6 2020. Usual FT competition rules apply. 

Bobby Seagull is a maths teacher and a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge. A long-suffering West Ham fan, he is co-host of the Maths Appeal podcast. Twitter: @Bobby_Seagull; Instagram: @Bobby_seagull 


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