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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

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

How the periodic table pushed scientific discovery

The periodic table is not just the story of discoveries aided by better technological innovations, it’s also the story of sheer genius

The Periodic Table (Wikimedia Commons)
Updated on Jun 05, 2023 09:02 PM IST

Problematics | Catch me if you can, with luck or skill

Probability puzzles sometimes appear more complex than they actually are. This one is deceptively simple.

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on Jun 05, 2023 03:16 PM IST

Problematics | Vizag to Kolkata, via an equilateral triangle

A point lies inside an equilateral triangle. If you know the distance of the point from each of the three vertices, what is the side of the triangle?

Welcome to Problematics!(Shutterstock)
Published on May 29, 2023 04:43 PM IST

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
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