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Elliptical Pool: An Even Nerdier Sport Than Quidditch

Eight Ball in the corner pocket? Not on Alex Bellos’ billiard table. It has no corner pockets—indeed, it has no corners whatsoever. Bellos, a British journalist who covers sports and mathematics, combined his two obsessions to create a unique game that he dubbed Loop. While working on his book The Grapes of Math, Bellos became fascinated by the ellipse. “The shape has these wonderful geometrical properties that we’ve known about since the ancient Greeks,” he says. Instructors frequently illustrate these properties by describing how balls would rebound on an elliptical pool table. Bellos decided to bring that thought experiment to life, refining a set of rules for a two-player game that takes full advantage of the shape.

Loop requires a cue ball, three colored balls, and an elliptical table with one uncharitably small pocket. The billionaire quantitative investor David Harding—a noted benefactor of worthy scientific causes—underwrote the five-figure cost of a single luxuriously appointed Loop table. “If any American billiard companies want to produce more, I’d love to work with them,” Bellos says.


The first Loop tournament was held earlier this year, and a Cambridge professor of statistics won after two days of matches. Bellos awarded him the coveted Golden Cone—a spray-painted piece of Styrofoam. But we’re sure the real honor is in being champion of the geekiest sport ever.

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