Unsolvable Problems – A Math Story With a Moral

By Anupum Pant

True Story

Back in 1939, a first year doctoral student at Berkeley, George Dantzig arrived late for a statistics class one day. On the board, professor Jerzy Neyman, a renowned mathematician, had written two problems, and it wasn’t very clear to George what he had written them were for. As any other student would assume, George assumed them to be homework problems and noted them down.

He went back and started working really hard on those problems. They seemed a little harder than usual to him. Nevertheless, George was determined enough. After a couple of days, when George was satisfied with his solution, he went to his professor and apologized to him for taking so long to finish the homework. Without looking at what he had done, the professor told him to put the work on his table, and he’d see it later. George did exactly that.

Six weeks later, on an unsuspecting Sunday morning, at 8:00 in the morning, George was awakened by a frantic knock on the door. It was professor Neyman. With a pile of papers in his hands, he seemed very excited. It was only then, through professor Neyman, that George came to know what he had done on those papers six weeks back.

Six weeks back, those two problems which George mistook for homework turned out to be two examples of unsolved statistics problems Neyman had written on the board. George had unknowingly noted them as homework, and ended up solving the 2 unsolved statistics problems.

Later the papers on these problems were published. However the second one was published much later, in the year 1950.

Moral: When people are not tied down by prejudice, by putting in good work, they often manage to achieve extraordinary things.

Via [Snopes]

The Evil Powdered Alcohol or Palcohol

By Anupum Pant

As if liquid alcohol wasn’t itself causing enough menace, now we have this futuristic powdered alcohol. They call it “Palcohol”.

All you need is, to mix a little of it with water, and there, you have your doze for the day. Other way to consume it would be to snort it for an “instantaneous high”, which by the way, is nothing less than deadly.

On an unrelated note, I find the host of this show is so adorable.


  • Palcohol certainly makes it easy for kids (and others) to carry alcohol around, and also to move it into places where it isn’t allowed (football games and concerts), which is definitely not desirable.
  • Also, the powder is highly flammable. Who wants a bomb in their pocket?
  • Another really bad thing about it is that it can easily kill you. Snorting can damage your mucous membrane. Also, since it is alcohol in high concentration, you can easily overdose on powdered alcohol and pass out.
  • The nightmare of every person, date rape, well, that just got a lot easier. Scary! How easy would it be for a creep to slip this powder into a drink of an unsuspecting victim – This is also Lacy’s primary concern (watch the video below).
  • So many new laws need to be in place before it gets available for public.

The patent to create powdered alcohol was published long back, in the 70s, but it is only now that they have got a federal approval. However, the Fed’s approval was taken back due to some issues. It is interesting to note that several other countries like Japan, Netherlands and Germany already have such products that are being sold in the market. How do the authorities in those countries  deal with this menace!

Nevertheless, Palcohol, a new and improved way to get drunk is here. It’s not going back.

Good news (?) is that it can be made at home. Read this PopSci article for the recipe.

I see only problems with Palcohol. I don’t think it needs to be in the retail market. What do you say?