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Kabir Firaque

Puzzles Editor Kabir Firaque is the author of the weekly column Problematics. A journalist for three decades, he also writes about science and mathematics.

Articles by Kabir Firaque

Weird Science | The science of lightning

While the exact mechanism of how lightning is created is still a subject of research, one thing's for certain. It can get deadly

Lightning kills an estimated 2500 people in India every year.(Representative Photo)(HT_PRINT)
Updated on Sep 13, 2023 09:20 PM IST

Problematics | Board games with 3 dice and chess pieces

Here's party trick first described in 1612, played with dice. Based on how the spots ate configured on standard dice, can you figure out why the trick works?

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Updated on Sep 11, 2023 12:45 PM IST

Going nuclear about Fukushima's waste

When it comes to radioactive material, can we ever be safe? Science gives a cautious nod, but Japan's detractors don't want a discharge into the Pacific ocean

Demonstrators hold signs reading
Published on Sep 08, 2023 06:55 PM IST

Problematics | 400m contests away from the champions

Given the times when two runners meet and cross each other along a track, can you work out their respective speeds?

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on Sep 04, 2023 01:10 PM IST

The Sun, and how it has fuelled humanity’s curiosity, knowledge

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is launching the Aditya-L1 mission to study the physics and chemistry around the Sun.

The Sun, the source of all energy that sustains life on Earth, has inspired knowledge for as long as humanity has existed. (AP)
Updated on Sep 02, 2023 01:41 AM IST
By, New Delhi

Problematics | Birthday celebrations with kings and queens

Which Kings and Queens face left, which face right? Which Jacks are seen in profile? One year since Problematics began, puzzles on the court cards and Wordle

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Updated on Aug 28, 2023 12:15 PM IST

Weird Science | How the Moon has fascinated humanity

Vikram's landing on the Moon's south pole is just one of many firsts, as mysteries about the Moon's formation remain

Ancient humans used the Moon as a calendar system, secure in the knowledge that it follows a regular orbit around our planet(Pixabay)
Updated on Aug 24, 2023 10:07 AM IST

The work that made CR Rao a legend in statistics

CR Rao made his reputation at the age of 24 in 1945 when he wrote a seminal paper in the Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society

Penn State professor emeritus and preeminent statistician C.R. Rao (
Updated on Aug 23, 2023 05:51 PM IST

Why new study on how mice talk holds significance for human speech

The study could have implications for investigating speech disorders in humans and could be used as a surrogate for human language in future studies of autism.

The study exposed mice to predictable as well as random sound sequences, and examined various aspects of their response. (Representative Image/Unsplash)
Updated on Aug 23, 2023 04:30 AM IST

Problematics | When MI fans met Barbenheimer

Who is watching Barbie, Oppenheimer or MI-7? Who's the Nolan fan and who likes Tom Cruise?

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Updated on Aug 21, 2023 01:06 PM IST

Problematics | The weight of medals in a sporting event

Six identical medals are distinguishable by their colours, but three are heavier than the others. Can you determine which one is which with just two weighings?

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on Aug 14, 2023 12:50 PM IST

‘Room-temperature superconductivity’ claim fails tests

Contrary to claims by Korean scientists, the material LK-99 does not show signatures of superconductivity at room temperature, CSIR-NPL study finds

A true superconductor would have levitated on a magnet (above); CSIR-NPL scientists found this property lacking in the newly described material. Oak Ridge National Library via US DoE
Updated on Aug 09, 2023 04:41 AM IST
By, New Delhi

Problematics | Meet Gabbar Singh, probability theorist

How likely are Gabbar Singh's men to survive his partly loaded revolver? A mathematical perspective

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on Aug 07, 2023 12:42 PM IST

Weird Science | Wriggling worms and the state between life and death

Cryptobiosis, first observed in 1702, is when an organism can power down for a millennium, survive harsh conditions, and then come 'alive' at the right time

Panagrolaimus kolymaensis, revived after 46,000 years (Alexei V Tchesunov and Anastasia Shatilovich via Max Planck Institute)
Published on Aug 04, 2023 08:59 PM IST

Problematics | What to wear to be allowed into a club

A club spells out who is allowed in; can you figure out who isn’t? There’s also a fun pun this week

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on Jul 31, 2023 12:57 PM IST

Now I Get It: Why the Hat and Spectre have been making news

They can tile an indefinite plane without repeating a pattern. The search for such shapes began in the 1960s. Why does any of this matter? Find out.

How much more is out there, that we don’t know about? What does it take to stumble upon new discoveries? How big a role does luck play? The Hat is, more than anything, a story of discovery. (University of Waterloo)
Updated on Jul 29, 2023 03:49 PM IST

Problematics | When two people share the same birthday

How many people must you select at random before the probability of two or more common birthdays crosses 50%

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on Jul 24, 2023 02:32 PM IST

Weird Science | It is indeed time to worry about the Upside Down

The ground beneath our feet is heating up and causing its own kind of climate change. But there’s a silver lining

Research on climate change has mostly focused on the impact on the atmosphere. But what of the impact underground? (Wiki Commons)
Published on Jul 22, 2023 09:56 AM IST

J Robert Oppenheimer, and the science behind the nuclear bomb

J Robert Oppenheimer is known as the father of the atomic bomb. A science backgrounder on the making of the bomb

Cillian Murphy in a still from the film Oppenheimer,which is based on J Robert Oppenheimer. (AP)
Updated on Jul 22, 2023 12:35 AM IST
By, New Delhi

Problematics | Crossing the desert without enough fuel

A puzzle in which you make a long trip across forbidding terrain, but will need more supplies than you can possibly carry.

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on Jul 17, 2023 12:07 AM IST

Much ado about green hydrogen

It's touted to be the next big source of energy. The Centre already has a mission in place, and a Union minister recently promoted the idea. An explainer

India already has a National Green Hydrogen Mission in place, and steps towards implementing it have been in the news lately.(SHUTTERSTOCK)
Updated on Jul 12, 2023 08:22 PM IST

Problematics | How to bring equality to two unequal piles

Another party trick with playing cards, and a set of movie anagrams. Which one do you find easier?

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on Jul 10, 2023 01:14 PM IST

Weird Science | Why our fingers and toes wrinkle when wet

The reason why toes wrinkle is still not fully understood, but it may be related to walking on slippery surfaces like stones in rivers.

A baby's wrinkled finger after a warm bath(Pixabay/Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)
Published on Jul 06, 2023 08:33 PM IST

Problematics | The rate of eating a growing food course

The grass keeps growing on a field as cows keep eating it. How many cows can finish it all up in how many days?

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on Jul 03, 2023 04:27 PM IST

Goodenough’s great contribution: The Li-ion battery

The 2019 Nobel prize winners, Goodenough, Whittingham, and Yoshino's breakthroughs powered the mobile electronics revolution and electric vehicle transition

John Goodenough(Wikimedia)
Published on Jun 29, 2023 03:48 PM IST

Problematics | How to use candles as your timekeeper

The line between a textbook sum and a ‘puzzle’ is not always clear. Here’s an example that may straddle both words.

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Updated on Jun 26, 2023 04:10 PM IST

Weird Science | The long and short of an elephant’s trunk

It’s one of the most versatile organs among all mammals exhibiting a rare combination of immense strength and dexterity and holds great inspiration for robotics

An elephant trunk, folded on the upper side and wrinkled on the underside, contains 120,000 muscles(Georgia Tech)
Published on Jun 23, 2023 11:18 AM IST

Problematics | Games of deduction before Wordle came

As in Wordle, you use test words to deduce a secret word. What's the hidden word in the example below?

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on Jun 19, 2023 04:14 PM IST

Problematics | The who’s who of dogs and humans in the park

Who owns the pug and who owns the mastiff? How old is the dog whose owner is 86 years old? Try this Einstein puzzle

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on Jun 12, 2023 02:16 PM IST

WEIRD SCIENCE: Yes, AI can read your mind (a little bit)

For one, it depends on how we train AI to associate a thought with the electrical activity that the thought generates. Two, your consent is everything

To go to the very basics, what is the “mind”?(Puneet Verma/HT)
Published on Jun 06, 2023 08:07 PM IST
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