ET Calling Urgently

Published: 17th May 2014 10:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th May 2014 10:25 AM   |  A+A-


We’re supposed to be very close to discovering life on Mars -- but at best it would be microbial, if that. How do you break the news to a microbe that you’re sentient? Somehow, “Hey Mike!” won’t work.

In other words, sending a message to extraterrestrials is dicey. Mainly because you don’t know what language to use. So a lot of people have thought of a lot of methods by which a simple easy-to-break code of generally universal nature pertaining to constants that would presumably be in existence everywhere in the universe would work. Here’s part of one such code devised back in the late 1980s which was apparently accepted by NASA to be used in deep space probes. (The itemised numbers 1 to 8 and punctuation marks are not part of the message and are included only so you don’t mess up the answer while describing the solution.)

(1) abcdefghijklmnpqrstuvwyz. (2) aa; aab; aaac; aaaad; aaaaae; aaaaaaf; aaaaaaag; aaaaaaaah; aaaaaaaaai; aaaaaaaaaaj. (3) akalb; akakalc; akakakald; bkalc; ckald; dkale; bkelg; glekb; fkdlj; jlfkd. (4) cmalb; dmalc; imglb. (5) cknlc; hknlh; dmdln; emeln. (6) jlan; jkalaa; jkblab; aakalab. (7) bpclf; epblj. (8) fqblc; jqble. Now if an ET were supposed to be able to break this code, a simple T(on) like you should also, right? L(ET)’s see.


The answer to the question posed about how many people were going to the market is “one”. The only person going to the market is telling about the person he met en route (who was probably coming from the market). All details about this person’s number of wives, their number of dogs and pups is to divert attention..The “man coming towards me” does not mean going to the market. Most probably, the other man (who has four wives, etc) was coming  from the direction of the market and that is why he was coming towards the narrator. -- B K Dikshit,

Chee chee chee . . . what yaar mukul, how could you? Resurrect that hoary old chestnut and pass it off under your But Google This Now going to the market indeed . . . and only four wives . . . dogs instead of cats . . . did you think that fooled anyone? If you’ve never heard the St Ives rhyme (which means you didn’t have a convent education) then here it is in all its ancient glory: As I was going to Saint Ives,/ I crossed the path of seven wives./ Every wife had seven sacks,/ Every sack had seven cats,/ Every cat had seven kittens,/ Kittens, cats, sacks, wives,/ How many were going to Saint Ives? Keep on Endgamin’ pardner - Lekha Nair,

(Hey LN, this wasn’t a problem posed by me but a reader. Or hadn’t you noticed on your trip to St Ives? And as far as fooling anyone goes, take a look at this missive below. – MS)

The solution to the man with wives, dogs, puppies, etc., is 4^0 + 4^1 + 4^2 + 4^3 = 85. The problem could have been more appealing if it were the man had 2 wives who had 3 dogs each and each dog had 4 puppies etc, even for which a generalized solution exists -- A.V.Ramana Rao,

Among others who got it right as the earliest birds are: Seshagiri Row Karry,; Kumudha Annirudh Vasudevan,; Dr B Ilango,; Muraleedharan T C,; Shashi Shekher Thakur,; Ranganath Mallya,

The other problem was: “Is it possible to give just two cuts to a square card so that the pieces can be re-arranged into a rectangle, a parallelogram, a trapezium and a right-angled triangle?”

You open the square card to get a rectangle, cut along the middle line to get to congruent squares. Take one of them and cut along the diagonal :Voila!  Or if it’s the case of simply a square shaped piece then cut through its diagonals! Your questions are just awesome:: Please give some easy ones the next time! -- Bitu Nayak,


If you take the digits from 0 to 9 inclusive and arrange them like this: 2,438,195,760 you’ll find that this 10-digit number can be divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, . . . and so on, right up to, and including, 18. How many other ways can the 10 digits be arranged so that it’s also divisible by any number till 18?

— Sharma is a scriptwriter and former

editor of Science Today magazine.



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