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Just for Graphs (DVD/Download) - Festival of the Spoken Nerd ****

We don't usually review DVDs or video downloads here, but I'm making an exception for The Festival of the Spoken Nerd (FotSN). I'll start with a of disclaimer. I've seen FotSN both live, and on the download version of this video, and their shows do work a little better in the flesh than on the screen. I think it's partly because their exuberance is less overwhelming at a distance on a stage than it is a couple of feet away - and also because you get a lift from the rest of the audience, as you do with any live performance. But Just for Graphs still proved immensely entertaining when viewed at home.

The trio of physicist/singer Helen Arney, physicist/fire-fan Steve Mould and mathematician/more mathematician Matt Parker provide a funny and sometimes surprising canter through all sorts of things about graphs, charts, diagrams and more. If there's a possibility that you don't find this concept fills you with thrills, it's not what they do, it's the way that they do it. Alongside the graphing wizardry is stand up humour, witty songs and some cracking little demonstrations, from plotting a 'bar chart' of an audio sound wave with a series of dancing flames to the impressive Chladni patterns produced with a metal plate, a violin bow... and couscous. I've seen videos of this before (sans couscous), but seeing it in a live show made it come to life.

I was thinking part way through, 'This is effectively the next generation of the Royal Institution Christmas lectures I used to love when I was little'... only to have Matt Parker tell us that he was the warm-up man for the TV lectures. There's that same combination of interesting science and impressive demos, but FotSN bring an added layer of sophistication, humour and self-deprecation. (The latter comes across particularly strongly when Steve Mould talks about using an Excel plot to predict when his wife was going to give birth from the duration and frequency of her contractions.)

Overall, there is a good balance in the show. There was one section I felt didn't quite work as well as the rest... but then it's unusual to go and see a standup comedian without experiencing some highs and lows. And the FotSN crew don't hold back on making jokes you will only get if you have a fairly high nerd quotient; provided (like me) you're in that category, these are a delight. While I'd urge you to go and see FotSN live, this is the next best thing (and distinctly easier to slip into a Christmas stocking than a live show). You can get the DVD from Amazon, though they'd prefer you to buy it direct... and from their website you can also get the download version as I did... or even get it on VHS (no, really).

DVD: 

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DVD, download or VHS: Festival of the Spoken Nerd site

Review by Brian Clegg

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