Odd-shaped Balls

      No Comments on Odd-shaped Balls

(~4 minutes to read)

News report: Football ground street signs are wrong, says fan

Folks in the UK were berating the people in charge of road signs last year for their depiction of a football (that’s the round one that people actually kick with their feet) on signs pointing to football (soccer) grounds.

At the heart of the matter is the geometric impossibility of the depiction of the football—it’s shown as connected hexagons, whereas in reality, it requires a mixture of hexagons and pentagons to make a football.

Sound pedantic to you?

The thing about pedantry is that it’s… well… pedantic, and being a pedant myself, I can see the argument.

A mathematician (and stand-up comedian) by the name of Matt Parker started a government petition to get the image changed, and backed it up with a very entertaining and well-put-together video. His petition received enough signatures to prompt a government response.

Which declined the request.

Parker wasn’t asking for existing signs to be fixed; just a change to the regulations to halt the perpetuation of the foul-up.

Why stick with something that’s demonstrably incorrect once it’s been pointed out? I mean… isn’t it the same principle as people continuing to publish material about the Earth being flat long after it’s been scientifically proven to be otherwise?

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) rebuttal revolved around the fact that although they acknowledge the inaccuracy, teaching geometry is not their responsibility, and that the image is easily recognized as a football. That’s a (little tiny) bit like NASA saying that although they know a flat earth is a flawed concept, teaching physics is not their responsibility, and by the way, they still plan to send a space probe to find out what’s on the underside of the flat earth.

The DfT also pointed out that drivers only glance at the signs—they don’t study them. If we tie that defence in with the results of studies that show people can easily understand text with trapnsosed lettres, we can see that the DfT now have a valid reason for not spellchecking road signs. (Mind you, how many non-Welsh speakers would know if some Welsh place names were misspelt?)

Wouldn’t it be easier for the DfT to ‘fess up to the cock up and fix the image for future signs?

The fact that the British public’s attention has been drawn to the issue now means that people may become distracted by the sign, a bit like the eye being drawn to a booger someone has hanging from their nose once it’s been pointed out. In today’s litigious society, I’m sure all it will take is one person successfully defending themselves in a fatal accident by saying they were distracted by the inaccurate soccer ball image, and all the current signs in the country will be changed as well as the regulations for new ones.

The petition is still active, and at 100,000 signatures, the topic will have to be considered for debate in parliament. So I’ve signed the petition (I still have British citizenship, so I have the right, as well as the right degree of pedantry). If you’re a UK resident or a British citizen, and you’re reading this before 6th April, 2018, consider doing the same. The petition is here.

The Truth but Not the Whole Truth

Apparently, it’s true that a sphere cannot be constructed from hexagons alone. Matt Parker’s video presents the evidence, and I’m not about to dispute it!

However, according to the BBC article, Parker also asserts that all the [road] signs except the football one look realistic. Here’s a fun look at other British road signs that might reveal a contrary view.

Let’s start with the “icy road” sign.


The car’s tracks look similar to the tracks I make on ice when I’m skating.

 UK Slippery Surface sign  

What about the “uneven road” sign?


The bumps are even. The road is bumpy, yes, but evenly bumpy.

 UK Uneven road sign  

On the subject of geometric inaccuracy, this tunnel entrance is as old-fashioned-looking as the “steam loco” warning sign for a railway crossing with no barriers or gates.

The curved roofs of tunnels are rarely visible these days.

 UK Tunnel sign  UK Railway Crossing No Barrier sign

Speaking of old fashioned, what about this sign warning about traffic regulation enforcement cameras?

 UK Traffic Camera sign  

The “No Evil Knievels Allowed” sign has always puzzled me.

 UK No vehicles sign  

This sign does not mean that cars have to go along with one set of wheels in the river alongside.

 UK Water Course Road sign  

…Or grass verge.

 UK Soft Verges sign  

Likewise, this doesn’t mean that red cars have to travel nearer the centreline than black ones do. (Remember that Brits drive on the left.)

 UK No overtaking sign  

And finally, this “Traffic queues likely” sign might be interpreted as a “Warning: vehicle cloning operations ahead.”

 UK Queues Likely sign  


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *