A Lit-Maths Test

Published: 12th December 2015 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 11th December 2015 12:28 AM   |  A+A-

Consider the equation shown below. But before the arts brigade falls to their collective knees wailing and gnashing their molars saying, “Oh woe is surely upon us, for alack! – another accursed mathematical puzzle looms to steal our sleep and peace of mind,” let me at the outset set out that what follows has virtually nothing to do with that hellish legerdemain of numbers and suchlike. In fact it is, if you will, a conundrum concerning one of the seven arts – literature -- and more to the point, poetry of a sort.


Suddenly I can hear howling packs of Virginia wolves returning to solve it, for although the equation balances just fine with both sides equalling 81, the whole numerical exposition is actually a limerick. That’s right, for example something like: An epicure dining at Crewe/ Found quite a large mouse in his stew./ Said the waiter, “Don’t shout/ Or wave it about/ For the rest will be wanting one too.”

So let’s see now if you can guess what limerick lurks hidden in those digits. (Hint: don’t think of 12 as “twelve” but as a “dozen”.)



(Last fortnight’s question was: “Why do fighter planes use flares sometimes to avoid missiles fired at them? Wouldn’t a flare in fact give away a reading to their approximate location?”)

Flares can only divert heat seeking missiles. Flares create pockets of heat maps in air causing missiles to seek the flares instead of aircraft. However if a missile uses GPS positioning, it follows the aircraft irrespective of flares. Here flares help only if they can touch the missile and destroy them before hitting but that can happen only rarely. -- Krishna,

Most missiles use the heat of the target to target them. Now the flare that the jets use release heat of higher than that of the jet itself, and thus can misguide the missile and make it hit the wrong target. -- Vasisht Vasudevan,

(The other puzzle was an almost impossible card trick where you declared that on being told how many face up cards were there in a pack, you could sort them into two groups, such that each group contained the same number of face up cards. And the impossible part was that you had to do it blindfolded.)

Count out the number of face up cards you have been told beforehand one by one and place them in another pile but before doing so flip each over once. It’s easy to imagine the logic behind this if the deck consists of just two cards and one of them is face up. No matter what the first card is, if you flip it then the number of face up cards becomes equal in the two piles -- either zero or one each. -- Altaf Ahmed,

If number announced is zero, just split the deck into two piles. Zero face up cards in both. If number = 52, split arbitrarily into two piles and flip both piles over. Zero face up cards in both. Any other number, count out number announced into one and flip over. Both will have equal number of FU cards. -- Kishore Rao,

(The third one was: “A man is looking at a portrait when a passerby asks him, ‘Whose picture are you looking at?’ The man replies: ‘Brothers and sisters have I none, but this man’s father is my father’s son.’ So whose picture was he looking at?”)

This is about the portrait question. He was looking at the picture of his son. I posed it to my nine and a half year old granddaughter, Diya, and she was able to figure it out. (So why didn’t you let her write in herself? -- MS). You may get a very large number of correct answers. (And a very large number of incorrect ones too; people who thought they were looking at themselves! -- MS) -- Abhay Prakash,

(Among the first five who also got it correct are: Sushree Sulava,; Saikrishna Swaminathan,; Narayana Murty Karri,; Kedhari Siva Shankar.; George K V, 



1. What’s the smallest number which has to be added to 69241811 to make it a palindrome (read the same backwards).

2. What goes front to back on one side of a ship and back to front on the other?

— Sharma is a scriptwriter and former editor of Science Today magazine.



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