Extracurricular Failures

Years ago, I wrote a little column about how in academia, we tend to speak only about our successes and remain very silent about our failures, and I suggested that people compile and publish their “CV of Failures”. I was delighted to see the idea taken up by Princeton Professor Johannes Haushofer, who published his CV of failures and thereby sparked a discussion on the topic on social media.

For myself, I haven’t been brave enough to publish my own CV of Failures, but I thought I could make a start by compiling the “Extracurricular Activities” section of it. Or at least, the top five.

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Not my superpower

I have long had a secret theory that everybody has one very specific and mostly useless superhero power. For instance, I have met a woman who, for years, has always woken up at precisely the same time every day (without using an alarm clock). I know a man who can sound exactly like a trumpet (without using a trumpet). And then there are several people dear to me who have an uncanny ability for finding four-leaf clovers.

My secret theory goes on to say that one day, when evil aliens from outer space attack Earth, circumstances will magically fall into place such that each of us gets to use our very specific superhero power and together, we will save the planet, thus proving that our superhero power wasn’t that useless after all. (Well, I don’t actually really believe that. But wouldn’t it make a great movie?)

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Round-the-house chess

Alan Turing was not only a brilliant mathematician and computer science pioneer, but also a gifted runner (with a marathon time of 2:46). It is no wonder, then, that he invented a game that combines rigorous thinking and running: Round-the-house chess.

The rules are as follows: It looks almost like a normal game of chess, except instead of opponents taking turns in playing, each player has to run around the house once before being allowed the next move. If you overtake your opponent, you get two moves in a row.

For those living in or near Cambridge (UK), my former colleague Daniel Murrell is organising a Turing chess tournament this coming weekend (Sunday, 23 June) to honour Turing’s 101st birthday.

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