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

The chemistry behind hooch tragedies

The body breaks alcohol down into different compounds. Methanol, used to prepare hooch, gets converted into toxic compounds

Family members of a hooch tragedy victim in Bihar.
Updated on May 24, 2023 12:29 PM IST

Problematics | Go with or against the flow and keep it simple

Here's a puzzle that's not as difficult as it may seem. Can you solve it with calculations on relative velocity? Or is there a simpler way?

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Updated on May 22, 2023 02:24 PM IST

WEIRD SCIENCE | Did you know robots can’t use their hands the way humans do?

Bio-engineering is yet to solve for dexterity for robots. Sure, science fiction predicts the future, and they’ll take over the earth some day. Just not yet.

One of the best-known humanoid robots, Nadine is modelled on her creator, Professor Nadia Magnenat Thalmann. A grasping algorithm allows her to see and recognise some objects, like bottles, and grasp them, but she can't work out how to hold new shapes that she doesn't recognise.
(Nadia Magnenat Thalmann, MIRALab)
Published on May 20, 2023 02:13 PM IST

Amid Gyanvapi dispute, how carbon dating works, and when it doesn’t

Radiocarbon dating may work on cement if there's organic material inside it. For rock, there are other processes, with limitations

Radiocarbon dating is currently under the spotlight with the Allahabad high court last week setting aside a Varanasi court order that had rejected a request for carbon dating of a structure found on the Gyanvapi mosque complex (PTI)
Updated on May 19, 2023 02:10 PM IST
By, New Delhi

Problematics | A classic remix of old milk in new bottle

What is there more of, milk in the glass of water, or water in the bottle of milk? Try to keep it simple.

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Updated on May 15, 2023 04:05 PM IST

Human diversity captured in new reference ‘pangenome’

The human reference genome has just got an upgrade: it is now a “pangenome” to represent more diversity between various individuals and populations.

HT Image
Updated on May 11, 2023 03:30 PM IST
By, New Delhi

Problematics | 6 men from 6 cities: who gets the job?

This one belongs to a family that we call Einstein puzzles. I have adapted my 1993 original just a little bit, for 2023 readers.

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Updated on May 08, 2023 05:45 PM IST

‘Not a victim’: Rosalind Franklin’s role in solving the mystery of DNA structure

Popular narrative sees her as a scientist whose data was stolen. But she must be remembered as an equal contributor, write researchers revisiting her story

Rosalind Franklin(Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory/Wikimedia Commons)
Updated on May 08, 2023 05:06 PM IST

Problematics | How to multiply, and why it works

This week, we try a different multiplication method and a puzzle including substitution and addition. Good luck!

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Published on May 01, 2023 01:59 PM IST

How the genomes of 240 mammals evolved, and how it explains disease risk

What has changed in the genomic make-up of various mammals over 100 million years of evolution, and which parts of the genome have been conserved?

Mammals constitute a very small fraction of animal species (estimates for the latter vary) but there are still nearly 6,000 kinds of mammals. (Representative)(Karen Carr/Smithsonian )
Updated on Apr 28, 2023 04:07 PM IST

Problematics | Cat-and-mouse games and betting strategies

A puzzle made from a Russian original, involving cats and mice, and another from betting at a casino, involving wins and losses. Good luck!

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Published on Apr 24, 2023 03:34 PM IST

Quantum computing: Where we are now, and how we got there

The National Quantum Mission aims to explore the potential of quantum technology in four domains with a budget of ₹6,000 crore.

From quantum mechanics emerged the quest for quantum computers a couple of decades later, seeking to harness the strange properties of nature at atomic levels. (Shutterstock)
Updated on Apr 24, 2023 01:49 PM IST

Time to get familiar with 3 terms: wet bulb, dry bulb and real feel temperature

What is the point of measuring temperatures in different ways, and what is the role of humidity in these? HT explains.

To say “it’s not the heat but the humidity” is inaccurate, for the effect on the human body is a combination of both. (HT Photo)
Published on Apr 19, 2023 12:51 PM IST

Problematics | A magic square, but not the kind everyone knows

This week, we have a one-of-its-kind magic square and a math problem. Good luck!

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Updated on Apr 17, 2023 04:48 PM IST

The work that earned CR Rao the top honour in statistics, and why it matters

Last week, CR Rao was awarded the 2023 International Prize in Statistics. The announcement dwells on three concepts. What are they and why are they important?

Prof CR Rao. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@PIB_Guwahati)
Updated on Apr 12, 2023 02:25 PM IST

Problematics | Games people play with sets of matches

This week, I bring you two puzzles: One involves a game from the past and the other, a sneak peek into a part of my day. Good luck!

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Updated on Apr 10, 2023 06:02 PM IST

1.4 billion, the whole and the parts: A tale told in puzzles, by Kabir Firaque

How many years would it take to count to this tally, at a number per second? How many squares on a chessboard, if each held twice the sum of its predecessor?

If humans formed a queue in space, maintaining a safe distance of one metre between every two individuals, Indians (or Chinese) alone would be more than enough to get from Earth to the Moon (roughly 384 million metres away). (Pixabay)
Updated on Aug 03, 2023 01:54 PM IST

The physics of an avalanche explained

From slope angle to nature of precipitation, here's what you need to understand

Rescue team members search for survivors after an avalanche in Sikkim on Tuesday. (REUTERS)
Published on Apr 06, 2023 03:34 PM IST

Problematics | A trick that works, an equation that doesn’t

This week, we bring to you a party trick with a (slightly) lengthy description and a strange equation of 1s and 0s. Good luck!

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Published on Apr 03, 2023 12:35 PM IST

Problematics | Swimmers’ meetings and Asimov’s pretty numbers

This week, we have challenging puzzles, one involving speed and distance and the other, a list by Isaac Asimov, giving both our puzzles a touch of unusualness. Good luck!

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Published on Mar 27, 2023 02:12 PM IST

Explained: What new data on SARS-CoV-2 says about Covid origin, what it doesn’t

Covid origin: Scientists on Tuesday published arguments in favour of the theory that the virus possibly infected the first humans at Wuhan’s animal market. The scientists make a strong case for their argument but the analysis does not conclusively establish their theory

International scientists have examined previously unavailable genetic data from samples collected at a market in China close to where the first human cases of Covid-19 were detected and said they have found suggestions the pandemic originated from animals, not a lab. (AP File Photo)
Updated on Mar 23, 2023 09:33 PM IST
By, New Delhi

Problematics | A password to puzzles with Jamie Lee Curtis

On December 19, 2022, I invited you to crack my password to the account where I store my puzzles. Since you did, I had to change my password for security reasons — and I used JAMIE LC for inspiration. Here are #Week30's puzzles.

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Updated on Mar 20, 2023 01:44 PM IST

Problematics | Rubik’s colours and Pythagorean triples

This week's puzzles include a mischievous child, a Rubik's cube, and the Pythagorean triangle. Good luck!

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Published on Mar 15, 2023 10:12 AM IST

Behind room-temp superconductivity

A paper in Nature this week by scientists from the University of Rochester, who claim that they have created a material that achieves superconductivity at room temperature, has been met with a degree of scepticism. That is because the team’s earlier work has been controversial.

Study authors Ranga Dias (left) and Nugzari Khalvashi-Sutter in the lab. (Source: J Adam Fenster/University of Rochester)
Published on Mar 11, 2023 11:45 AM IST

Problematics | In the name of Einstein, match the following

Creating a full-length Einstein puzzle, I found, can be an exhausting but ultimately rewarding exercise. Here you go.

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Published on Mar 06, 2023 03:54 PM IST

The weight of life: Cattle 40% of all mammals by mass, wild animals 6%

Almost 40% of mammals by mass in the world are cattle, and with India accounting for around 30% of the world’s cattle according to the US Department of Agriculture, Indian cattle should account for around 12% of the mammalian biomass in the world

For Representation
Updated on Mar 02, 2023 04:59 AM IST
By, New Delhi

Problematics | The price of mixing apples and oranges

It may be fine to compare apples with oranges, but you should be wary about mixing the two, except perhaps in a fruit salad. Here’s why.

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Updated on Feb 28, 2023 08:45 AM IST

Problematics | Untold story about a hare and a tortoise

This week, one of the two puzzles may include some information you don’t really need. Good luck!

Welcome to Problematics! (Shutterstock)
Published on Feb 20, 2023 01:09 PM IST

Eye in the sky: Satellites, drones... back to balloons

New Delhi As a tool for surveillance, the balloon might come across as dated in this age of satellites and drones

Sailors assigned to Assault Craft Unit 4 prepare material recovered in the Atlantic Ocean from a high-altitude Chinese balloon shot down by the US Air Force off the coast of South Carolina for transport to federal agents at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek on February 10, 2023 in this image released by the US Navy in Washington. (REUTERS)
Updated on Feb 16, 2023 01:53 PM IST

Lithium Rush: The discovery and the difficulties

Lithium is often described as the white gold of energy storage technology; light and compact, it is the defining element in the lithium-ion batteries that drive our mobile phones, laptops and, in some cases, electric cars

Reasi: A villager shows lithium stones in Reasi district, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023. The Geological Survey of India (GSI) has for the first time established 5.9 million tonnes of inferred resources of lithium in the Salal-Haimana area of Jammu & Kashmir. (PTI Photo)(PTI02_12_2023_000120A)(PTI)
Updated on Feb 15, 2023 08:12 AM IST
By, New Delhi
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