Keeping the brain active through puzzles

Keeping the brain active through puzzles

The egg first or chicken first question has been a conundrum that has tested the most analytical minds for over centuries.

The egg first or chicken first question has been a conundrum that has tested the most analytical minds for over centuries. While a scientifically defensible response will be difficult to formulate, I would personally subscribe to the view that since the egg, while being a precursor to life does not actually contain a living organism, it should be deemed to have first come into existence. No doubt this might be a philosophical solution but, according to me it will have to do till better minds find a superior answer!

Many of us are familiar with other such vexing questions that would result in a satisfactory answer. The realm of riddles and puzzles abounds with many such brainteasers almost all of which are self -addressing and, therefore, by nature designed to result in ambiguous solutions.

Just as exercise is important to keep the body fit and prayer or meditation helps stabilise one's emotional apparatus, the mind needs to be kept alert and agile by various methods including solving riddles and puzzles, and participating in other stimulating activities such as quizzes.

This three-dimensional fitness regime is drilled into one's daily regimen from childhood days, especially through the encouragement of parents and grandparents. The most powerful instrument of transmission of the fruits of the rich legacy of the past is through the tales told by grandmothers.

Often taking the shape of poems or songs they are rich sources of wisdom, experience and pointers to the secrets of success ethical conduct in one's future. The commonest and most popular, references in them relate to incidents (perhaps apocryphal), in the courts of kings of yore. And the assistance of wise and clever courtiers often figures in the narrative. Many such examples can be thought of but, easily, the most popular ones are those which relate to the times of King Solomon or King Krishnadevaraya. Solomon, mostly on his own, and, Krishnadevaraya with the frequent help of the celebrated Tenali Ramakrishna.

One of the common stories is about the baby for whose possession two women are fighting, each claiming it to be her own. Solomon suggests cutting the baby into two halves, one to go to each woman, and, seeing the response, decides that the mother who protests against that solution is the one to whom the baby belongs.

The other often related riddle is about the three brothers who come to the court of King Krishnadevaraya. They are unable to decide how they should distribute a herd of seventeen elephants bequeathed to them by their father, who had decreed in his will that half of the herd should go to the eldest brother, a third to the second and 1/9 to the third. Clearly an impossible proposition! But Ramakrishna simply suggests the addition of a hypothetical elephant to the herd, making a total of eighteen, after which the three desired divisions come to nine, six and two, adding up precisely to seventeen!

Many similar stories are also attributed to Birbal and Akbar the great whose court he adorned. Puzzles and riddles are often the theme of songs, especially in the movies. In the legendary Raj Kapoor classic Shri 420, the song Ichak Dana Beechak Dana, for instance, comprises verses each of which poses, and solves, riddles. Similarly another song Ek Sawaal Main Karoon from the great hit of yesteryear Sasural, asks, and answers, questions in the form of riddles. On similar lines is the song which goes with the lyrics 'Vestanu Podupu Katha', in the film 'Andaman Ammaayi'.

Apart from the medium of films social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and various websites in the internet contain many quizzes and riddles which one can either solve. Or even participate in, online these days. Every newspaper, both in the printed version as well as the electronic one, carries, in the supplement, word jumbles and pictorial brain teasers, a source of stimulation to the mind.

I make it a point to begin my day with solving the word jumble, as well as the problem of finding at least six differences between two versions of the same picture, both in the supplement of a local newspaper every day. Then there are crossword puzzles in newspapers, as well as periodical magazines, which challenge one's mental faculties, solving which can prove very satisfying, apart from being a considerable learning experience.

In addition, there are many popular TV programmes which conduct quizzes. The spectacularly successful 'Who wants to be a millionaire'? which began in 1998 with Chris Tarrant as the host. Jimmy Kimmel hosts it now, with the episodes featuring celebrity contestants and the proceeds going largely to charity. Amitabh Bachchan is the host of the Indian version 'Kaun Banega Crorepati', which not only is a runaway success, but also led to the production of a movie with the show as the theme.

As a matter of fact, it is just as interesting to participate in a quiz, as it is to create and conduct one for the benefit and entertainment of others. I say this from experience, as both in radio programmes as well as on TV shows, I have had the pleasure of hosting such events.

The spontaneous enthusiasm with which people participate in them, and the pleasure and pain you see on their faces, as questions are asked, and responses provided, are unforgettable experiences. Especially in these days of the so called Covid blues, generated by the restrictions on movement and socialisation, quizzes, puzzles and brainteasers, in which ever form, are a most welcome and wholesome diversion. Before we leave this fascinating discussion, you have no doubt heard of the saying that every rule has an exception. What if I asked you whether this, in itself, being in the nature of a rule, has an exception or not? Until next week then!

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh) 

(The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)

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