The mathematical muddle created by leap years

You may well have heard of leap seconds. You might well ask why we can’t just add in a few leap seconds every day so that we end up with the right number of extra hours by the end of each year? It’s a nice idea, but of course it would mean that, by extending the day, our clocks would get out of sync with our daylight, which would be an even worse problem. Halfway through the year we might end up eating breakfast at dusk or going to bed at sunrise. In fact, leap seconds are used to avoid exactly this problem – small variations in the period of Earth’s rotation on its axis that would otherwise throw our time out of kilter.

So it seems we are stuck with leap days. But this year, on this most unusual of dates why not take the opportunity to embrace the rarity. You could read along with the French by picking up a copy of the world’s least frequently publish newspaper, La Bougie du Sapeur, published every leap day since 1980 (this will be the 12th edition). Or you could test your culinary skills by making pig’s trotter noodles, like the people of Taiwan, who serve it to their elderly on leap day, viewing the speciality as a harbinger of good luck and longevity. Or you could just sit back and enjoy your evening with a “Leap Year” cocktail. A combination of gin, Grand Marnier, vermouth and lemon juice, its unusual combination of flavours are the perfect tonic for this unusual day. Who knows, you could even be inventive and try making up your own unique tradition to capture the spirit of the rarest day of the year.

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