Questions for February 2016

Here’s some new and some old that I have been saving for years. Yes I am scraping the barrel this month! Feel free to post comments. Answers next month.

  1. Andre Tchaikowsky was a Polish pianist. (Not that other, Russian Tchaikowski bloke). He had a strange ambition – to act in Hamlet, but not in the title role – no, he wanted to play Yorick, the jester. Did he manage it?
  2. Georg Steller described a tribe in (Tsarist) Siberia who improved their wretched existence by drying out hallucinogenic mushrooms, that contained ibotenic acid, and eating them. Demand and fashion led to the mushrooms becoming expensive, and thus no longer affordable by poorer tribe members. What did they do instead?
  3. The German Tank problem: you spot ten German tanks of a particular model, and you know the Germans have numbered them in order starting at 1. The highest number that you see is 250. Roughly how many tanks of that model are there?
  4. Dr Johnson compiled his famous Dictionary of the English Language. Later he was told off by a woman for not including obscenities in it. What was his reply?
  5. The list of the largest known prime numbers known to humanity includes the values 23217-1, 24253-1, 24423-1, 29689-1. OK, this was years ago, we are up to 274207281-1 now. For how long was 24253-1 the largest known prime?
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13 comments

  1. Dr Bob’s answers –
    1. Yes, he bequeathed his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company, and he played the part of Yorick on the stage post-mortem; also in the 1996 film
    2. They collected and drank the urine of the rich tribe members, and got even more stoned
    3. If you see K tanks and the highest number is M, then the estimate is M + (M/K). So if the highest of ten tanks is 250, the estimate is 275
    4. “No Madam, I hope I have not dirtied my fingers …. I note, however, that you have been looking for them”
    5. Only for a few milliseconds – 2^4253 and 2^4423 were found in the same computer run

  2. “It is far easier (but much less fun) to give the right answers to your quizzie things than construct some (to me) funny or sarcastic answers. Am I missing the point of this ?”

    True! But it isn’t all Google…

    For example, I heard about the Yorrick one very recently because my daughter has just come back from the UK where she went specifically to see Benedict Cumberbatch as the Dane in Hamlet. She told me that there was something about the skull being real when David Tennant played him (plus she is a big Whovian, which also helps).

    I knew the one about the primes. My profession is computing and I, like tens of thousands of others in university, played with code from calculating primes, etc, and trying to emulate and better previous attempts (only very mild success myself). I knew that two of the larger primes were found in one run of a program some time in the past. It took only a short search to confirm this was the one Dr Bob was referring to. The other discussion was also around when we studied Chaos Theory programming.

    The tank one sprang from memories of statistics studies at uni also (ugh, the horror!) plus historical reading on WW2. The formulae are fairly well known, and I vaguely recall they were also used to estimate the number of German radar units based on parts returns and serial numbers extracted from routine Enigma messages at Bletchley Park.

    The dictionary one I made up before relenting and Googling later, only to discover I had more or less picked Dr Johnson’s response.

    The Fly Agaric one was indeed research at lunch time, but it since I work in a hospital currently, there were some curious glances my way while I did the reading on poisonous mushrooms…

    Finally, if you look back over the history of this quiz (I’ve been contributing since the late 1990’s) you will see there have been some outstandingly clever and sarcastic answers which I have no hope of emulating. I have cried with laughter sometimes. So I leave that side to those far better qualified than me to give us all a great laff.

    cheers!

  3. Whoops, I meant 23 MILLION decimal digits. Well 22.336391 million, anyway.

  4. That last one really boggles the mind. 2 to the power 74,207,281 is 23 decimal digits. I could not conceive how you would Eratosthenes Sieve such a number. Truly mind boggling.

  5. With last month’s question about the number of girls that the Smiths have, the correct answer could be either 1/2 or 1/3, depending on how you convert the “English” to “probability maths”.There is more than one interpretation. Not sure how important this is ???????

  6. 3. Always look out for number one, that’s what I was told. Except this time, when I can’t think of anything to add to points 1 &2.
    4. “There are no words in this dictionary, madam, to express my true feelings towards you”
    5. I can tell you how long this number has been a prime, though.
    5/5 Dave being all correct
    “give us a chance, precious, give us a chance”

  7. 1. Yes, as a stage prop. “Tchaikowsky’s Yorick lacks both the charm and depth associated with Mr Tchaikowsky’s career as a musician and the infinite jest of Yorick himself. One and a half Stars. (M. Pomerantz, attrib)

    2. They perished rapidly, along with a number of Georg Stellar’s other discoveries of local endangered fauna, several of which are now extinct and others likely to be over the course of the coming century.

    3. Depends who you believe. Intelligence suggests production capacity of 2500 per year, so the other 2000+ are in hiding. Statisticians estimate 250 plus or minus 2 standard deviations, whatever that means whist the Air Force says none because they’ve all been destroyed by ground attack aircraft.

    4. ” I am unfamiliar with this fuck of which you speak so highly. Perhaps we can retire to my chambers for a demonstration” (adapted and arranged from a sketch by R. Atkinson)

    5. Couldn’t find the number in the Wikipaedia list of historically highest primes, so I am completely baffled. I guess it was overlooked so the answer is never.

  8. Ideally the answer would be both (true, and witty). Or better than the real answer (What propellant drove the world record land-speed vehicle in 1901 => Vanity, Testosterone, etc) I try to make them impossibly difficult so as to promote witty answers, but in an age of Wikipedia and Google that is really difficult. I used to get the questions from obscure books that I had read, and just from life generally. Even with no good answers sent in, the question and its real answer should be interesting enough. And I don’t know what is the point of it all … it used to be to get people to come to the Skeptics’ web page and then look around that, but I got thrown off that as irrelevant.

  9. It is far easier (but much less fun) to give the right answers to your quizzie things than construct some (to me) funny or sarcastic answers. Am I missing the point of this ?

  10. 1) Yes. Well, at least part of him did. On his death in 1985, he left his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company to be used as a prop. Although it was used often during rehearsals, it was only recently that David Tennant played Hamlet using Andre’s real skull in public performances. I shall now refrain from giving any “head” puns…

    2) They had two ways of overcoming this problem, both based on the fact that the hallucinogenic components of the Fly Agaric mushroom are not metabolised but almost completely excreted in the urine. The first approach was to wait until one (rich bastard!) person had partaken of the mushroom. They would then catch and drink their piss thus getting the buzz themselves. This could be passed with little loss of effect to another person, and so on for a half dozen iterations or more. The second approach was to wait for their reindeer to find and eat the mushroom, to which they were partial, then kill it and everyone eat the meat. Free flights for all, woo hoo!

    3) A classic statistical problem, with a number of different solutions which I won’t even pretend to understand. According to these, the answers come out at 275, or possibly 280.125 +/- 34.7. And how you get decimal fractions of a tank, I’m not sure.

    4) To the effect, “What were you doing looking for them, madam?” Implying she was an impetuous hussy and that she should really stop bothering serious dictionary writers with inane questions, get her fancy shoes off and go back to the kitchen where she belonged.

    5) Estimate of a few seconds to a minute only. In effect, it was the time between the calculation of this one and the calculation of the next highest one, 2^4423-1, on the computer at that time. They were both found in the same run of the program and were listed in the same printout. The higher one was actually seen first. There is still philosophical argument as to what conditions are required for this value to be “known” as ultimate. Was the fact the computer “knew” it for a measurable time before it found the next highest value sufficient? Or did it require human observation in order to register significance? Fist-fights in math-clubs abounded!

  11. Andre Tchaikowsky was a Polish pianist. (Not that other, Russian Tchaikowski bloke). He had a strange ambition – to act in Hamlet, but not in the title role – no, he wanted to play Yorick, the jester. Did he manage it?

    Yorick? Just whistle a few bars and I’ll try to pick up the tune from there……

    Georg Steller described a tribe in (Tsarist) Siberia who improved their wretched existence by drying out hallucinogenic mushrooms, that contained ibotenic acid, and eating them. Demand and fashion led to the mushrooms becoming expensive, and thus no longer affordable by poorer tribe members. What did they do instead?

    The Tsar nicked all the best land. So there wasn’t “mushroom” left for planting….

    The German Tank problem: you spot ten German tanks of a particular model, and you know the Germans have numbered them in order starting at 1. The highest number that you see is 250. Roughly how many tanks of that model are there?

    You’d probably be running away too fast to count unless of course they were Italian tanks – with one forward gear and nineteen reverse…..

    Dr Johnson compiled his famous Dictionary of the English Language. Later he was told off by a woman for not including obscenities in it. What was his reply?

    Madam, although I am wont to tell you to go f**k yourself instead kindly make a rapid sexual departure….

    The list of the largest known prime numbers known to humanity includes the values 23217-1, 24253-1, 24423-1, 29689-1. OK, this was years ago, we are up to 274207281-1 now. For how long was 24253-1 the largest known prime?

    Wow. Guess what? When you copy and paste in this editor the exponents don’t come over.
    So technically NONE of these are prime as all odd numbers minus 1 are even (and hence non-prime!)

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