Question of the Week

B R Sitaram

Here are the answers to last month’s questions.

Q 1. On WhatsApp, I got a message that March 2019 will be special, as for the first time in 560 years, there would be five Sundays in the month. Why should I dismiss this statement as hype?
A. These statements come very often, with the first time in so many years, the only difference being in the number of years claimed! These statements are wrong when they state that such events are rare. In fact our calendar (the Gregorian one) is periodic. It repeats itself after 28 years, so the calendar for 2019 is the same as the calendar for 1991, 2047, 2075, etc. So any event connected with the Gregorian calendar has to repeat itself after 28 years! In fact, calendars can repeat after shorter time periods (6 years or 11 years), depending on the remainder you get when you divide the year by 4. For example, the calendar for 2019 will repeat in 2030 (after 11 years), again in 2036 (after 6 years) and again in 2047 (after 11 years).

Q 2. How long is a day (in hours)?
A. This is actually a tricky question. The word “day” is used in two different senses: the time when the sun is visible (day and night) and the duration from noon to noon. We use the second interpretation a lot. For example, the “day” in Monday, Tuesday, etc., the fact that we have 7 days in a week, 365 days in a year, etc. If I had intended the first meaning, the correct answer would have been, “varies from 0 hours to 6 months, depending on where you live.” If I had intended the second meaning, the correct answer would have been 24 hours! There are many similar words that we use in an ambiguous fashion: plant (think of plants, shrubs, grasses and trees vs. the plant kingdom), animal (are animals and nematodes different or are nematodes part of the animal kingdom?), man (as in man vs woman or as in ancient man), etc.

Q 3. One of the persons referred to in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, who is credited with discovering the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone is a historical figure. Who is he?
A. The historical figure is Nicholas Flamel, who was a scribe during the 14th-15th Century. His name comes up repeatedly in the book. Two hundred years after his death, legends started appearing about his alchemy and he was reputed to have discovered the Philosopher’s Stone and attained immortality. (J K Rowling uses the same story in the book.)

Q 4. Sheep, mutton; Cow, beef; Swine, pork; Deer, venison; Calf, veal; House, palace; Home, mansion; Knave, servant; Horse, cavalry; Wool, cloak; Cloth, raiment; Wife, spouse; Skirt, gown; Begin, commence; Depth, profundity; Happiness, felicity; Meal, repast; Believe, trust; Friendly, amicable.
In each pair, the first word comes from Old German, while the second comes from Old French. Also, the first word has more to do with the common man and the second with nobility. What important historical event is responsible for these features?

A. The event was the Norman conquest of England (1066 CE). Following the conquest, the nobility in England were largely Normans, who brought their language with them from Normandy. The general public was largely Saxon, which retained their language which was a descendant of Old German. The conquest had a lasting effect on English: even though English is a Germanic language, many of its features are from French!

Questions for this month

  1. I mentioned above that the calendar has to repeat after 28 years (and also mentioned the smaller periodicities of 6 and 11). What is the first time in the future when this periodicity will break and why?
  2. Look at the list of words given below. All of them stand for “Mother”. Matru (Sanskrit), Mata (Hindi), Mater (Latin), Mutter (German), Moeder (Dutch), Match (Russian, pronounced with a long ‘a’), Madre Spanish), Maika (Croatian), Mother (English), Modir (Icelandic), …………..You can make similar lists for Father, Brother, Sister, etc. The question is, what conclusion can you draw from the above list?
  3. What great discovery, which completely changed the way objects were portrayed in a drawing or painting, was made by artists and mathematicians working together and when?
  4. I have a magic formula for reducing weight. It takes effect instantly and the effects last as long as you live, with no chance of regaining the lost weight. What is my magic formula?

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