St Patrick’s Day is canceled once again this year, so no parades, no green beer, no bars blaring The Pogues or Dropkick Murphys and no party-goers spilling into the streets wearing “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shirts (despite not being Irish in the slightest). Of course, St Paddy’s wasn’t always about over-imbibing. Traditionally, it’s the Catholic feast day of St Patrick, the patron saint of the Emerald Isle who is credited with both converting the Irish to Christianity and, famously, for driving the snakes out of Ireland. It wasn’t until Irish immigrants landed in populous North American cities that the day took on its current form of secular revelry (the first St Paddy’s parade was held in Boston in 1737—so it’s fitting that almost 300 years later, the unofficial festival anthem is now “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”!). So since we won’t be donning our sparkly green shamrock headbands this year (not in public, at least), this is a good time to go beyond the stereotypes and look into the long tradition of whisky, and see the cool ways this spirit has endured.
Whisky’s history is cloudy, due to spotty record-keeping back in the day, but general consensus is that it was invented in Ireland by monks around 1000 AD, who probably picked up some distilling tricks along their journeys in the Mediterranean and then applied them to the ingredients they had back home. The name itself comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha—which, from what I can tell, is pronounced something like “ish-ka ba-ha”—meaning “water of life” (so, basically the Irish version of aqua vitae). The first actual record of whisky is from 1405, and the first licensed distillery was Northern Ireland’s Old Bushmills Distillery in 1608. With such a long history of distilling this spirit, you’d think that Ireland would dominate the whisky market today. Unfortunately, the country’s liquor production hit some rough patches during the turbulent 20th century (see: the First World War, the Easter Rising of 1916, and Prohibition in the US that cut off its most lucrative market—not to mention World War II, and the British Empire cutting off trade with the Republic) which dwindled its distilleries down to only two. But not to worry, production of the native beverage has picked up since the latter half of the twentieth century, with new distilleries constantly opening up across the isle, and Jameson placing third in the top-selling whiskies in the world (behind the college-crowd pleasing Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam).
I know basically every celebration of pi day (March 14, because pi = 3.14…) turns into a celebration of pie, and I’d never say no to pie, but what if we could celebrate with delicious pies while also learning more about what math is at the same time? Conveniently enough, Eugenia Cheng, author of X + Y, has already done this for us: How to Bake π.
Now, I’m going to take a bit of a detour away from tasty delicious pie and into the world of knitting for a brief moment. Upon asking a college classroom what came to mind when asked about mathematics, math professor Sara Jensen found the top two words were “calculation” and “equation”. Asked the same question, professional mathematicians gave quite a different response: “critical thinking” and “problem-solving”. Which prompted Jensen to “eliminate pencil, paper, calculator (gasp) and textbook from the classroom completely. Instead, we talked, used our hands, drew pictures… And of course, we knit” (Jensen, Why I Teach Math Through Knitting), in an attempt to bridge the gap between how students approached math (calculating equations, memorizing proofs…drudgery) and how math could actually be used as a tool, engaging learners by making the learning interesting and more hands-on. I’ve joked before about how I’ve done more linear algebra while knitting than learning it in class, and certainly with more of a vested interest in how the abstract numbers translate to the physical object! And I’ve also thanked Pythagoras before for imparting his theorem to us while figuring out how to calculate length as I knit on a bias. In fact, I have found myself wanting to engage more with math as I knitted more and more, making alterations and designing my own items – it’s all the same math I learned by rote back in school, approached with a lot more enthusiasm now in comparison, and willingly at that!
And it’s exactly this work of transforming how we think of math, from equations and calculations to problem-solving and critical thinking, that Cheng does in How to Bake Pi. She makes math fun to learn, and accessible to audiences of varying levels of math knowledge, which is quite a feat!
Last month, the sequel to Little Nightmares was digitally released, exciting and terrifying gamers far and wide. You may ask yourself: what’s everybody screaming about? While I have yet to play the recent instalment, I just this week made my way through the first and absolutely loved it. (Fret not, this is a spoiler-free zone.) The puzzle-platform horror adventure game is both aesthetically satisfying and masterful in its visual storytelling. Following a tiny, raincoat-donned girl named Six, the player makes their way through The Maw, a vast, mysterious iron vessel inhabited by monstrous, twisted beings and captive children. IGN describes The Maw to be “something like the world’s worst dollhouse” and I am inclined to agree, as an admirer of both dollhouses and terror.