Archive for the Cute Problems Category

A Guest Paradox

Posted in Cute Problems, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on February 9, 2018 by telescoper

Here’s a short guest post by my old friend Anton. As usual, please feel free to discuss the paradox through the comments box!


I thought of a physics paradox the other day and Peter has kindly granted me a guest post here about it, as follows. Consider a homogeneous isotropic closed universe as described by general relativity. Let it contain a uniform density of a single species of electrically charged particle, so that this universe has a net charge. The charged particle density is sufficiently low, however, that the perturbation from the regular uncharged metric is negligible. Since this universe is homogeneous and isotropic the electric field in it is everywhere zero. BUT if I consider a conceptual 3-dimensional sphere, small enough for space-time curvature to be neglected, then it contains a finite amount of electric charge, and therefore by Gauss’ theorem a nonzero electric field points out of it at every point on its surface. This contradicts the zero-field conclusion based on the metric.

Here are three responses (one my own) and my further responses to these, in brackets:

  1. In a closed universe it is not clear what is the outside and what is the inside of the sphere, so Gauss’ law is not trustworthy (tell this to a local observer!);
  2. the electric field lines due to the charges inside this (or any) conceptual sphere wrap round the universe an infinite number of times (this doesn’t negate Gauss’ theorem!);
  3. the curved rest of the Universe actually adds a field that cancels out the field in your sphere (neither does this negate Gauss’ theorem!)

A problem of fluid flowing through a hole

Posted in Cute Problems with tags , , , , on December 19, 2017 by telescoper

I’m sure you’re all already as bored of Christmas as I am so I thought I’d do you all a favour by giving you something interested to do to distract you from the yuletide tedium,
The cute problem of the water tank I posted a while ago seemed to provide a diversion for many – although only about 10% of respondents go it right – so here’s a similar one. It’s not multiple choice so you will have to write your answers to the two parts in the comments box. As a hint, I’ll  say that this is from some notes on dimensional analysis, and it’s one of the harder problems I have in that file!

An incompressible fluid flows through a small hole of diameter d in a thin plane metal sheet. The volume flow rate R depends on d, on the fluid viscosity η and density ρ, and on the pressure difference p between the two sides of the she

(a) Find the most general possible relationship between the quantities  R, d, η,  ρ, and p.

(b) Measurement of the flow rate R1  through this the hole for a pressure difference p1 is made using a particular fluid. What can be predicted for a fluid of twice the density and one-third the viscosity?


As usual, answers through the comments box please!



The Problem of the Water Tank

Posted in Cute Problems on November 26, 2017 by telescoper

Here’s a nice problem I remember hearing in the pub on Friday and figured out this afternoon.

A water tank or sink is open to the air at the top where it can be filled using a tap connected to an infinite reservoir. Water can be drained from the container through an opening at the bottom  by removing a stopper. The effects of viscosity on the outflow from the tank can be neglected.

The time taken for the tank to fill when the tap is fully open and the stopper in place is the  same as the time taken for it to empty from full  when the tap is closed and the stopper is removed.

If the tank is initially empty, the stopper removed and the tap turned full on, how full is the tank when a steady state is reached?


The Problem of the Spinning Tube

Posted in Cute Problems with tags , , on November 22, 2017 by telescoper

It’s been a while since I posted a problem in the folder for cute physics problems so here’s a nice little one for you to have a go at:

A vertical cylindrical tube of height 12cm and radius 6cm, sealed at the bottom and open at the top,  is two-thirds filled with a liquid and set rotating with a constant angular velocity ω about a vertical axis.  Neglecting the surface tension of the liquid, estimate the greatest angular velocity for which the liquid does not spill over the edge of the tube.

Answers through the comments box please!


A Cube of Resistance

Posted in Cute Problems with tags , , , on September 14, 2017 by telescoper

It has been brought to my attention that I haven’t posted any cute physics problems recently, so here’s one (which involves applying Kirchoff’s laws) that’s a bit harder than A-level standard which might be of interest to students about to begin a degree in physics this month!

The above image, produced using the advanced computer graphics facilities available at Cardiff University’s Data Innovation Research Institute, represents a cube formed of 12 wires each of which has resistance 1Ω.

What is the electrical resistance between: (i) A and G; (ii) A and H; and (iii) A and D?

As usual, answers through the comments box please!

A Problem with Spitfires

Posted in Cute Problems, History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on July 25, 2017 by telescoper

This problem stems from an interesting exchange on Twitter last night, prompted by a tweet from the Reverend Richard Coles:

I think his clerical vocation may be responsible for the spelling mistake. The answer to his question doesn’t require any physics beyond GCSE but it does require data that I didn’t have access to last night.

Here’s a version for you to try at home with all the necessary numbers (though not necessarily in the right units):

A model of a Mark VI Spitfire showing its two 20mm cannons.

A Supermarine  Mark VI (Type 350) Spitfire fighter aircraft weighing 6740 lb is initially travelling at its top speed of 354 mph. The aircraft is armed with two Hispano-Suiza HS.404 20mm cannons, one on each wing, each of which is fed by a drum magazine containing 60 rounds. Each projectile  fired from  the cannon weighs 130 grams, the rate fire of each cannon is 700 rounds per minute and the muzzle velocity of each shell is 860 m/s.

(a) Calculate the reduction in the aircraft’s speed if the pilot fires both cannon simultaneously until the magazines are empty, if the pilot does nothing to compensate for the recoil. Express your answer in kilometres per hour.

(b) Calculate the average deceleration of the aircraft while the cannons are being fired, and express your result as a fraction of g, the acceleration due to gravity at the Earth’s surface which you can take to be 9.8 ms-2.

(c) A Mark 24 Spitfire – which is somewhat heavier than the Mark VI, at 9,900 lb (4,490 kg) – is armed with 4×20mm cannons, two on each wing. The inboard cannon on each wing has a magazine containing 175 rounds; the outboard one has 150 rounds to fire. Repeat the above  analysis for these new parameters and comment on your  answer.

Answers through the comments box please!




A Problem of Brightness

Posted in Cute Problems with tags on July 20, 2017 by telescoper

It’s been a while since I posted anything in the Cute Problems folder, so here’s a nice one:

Two physics students are studying at desks in the same room. The two outlets of the wall socket to which their desk lamps are attached have inadvertently been wired in series rather than in parallel. The only bulbs available for the lamps are designed for the nominal mains voltage (240V) : Student A chooses a 200W bulb for his lamp; Student B opts for a 50W bulb for hers.

Which is the brighter student?

Hint: Assume that the filament in each bulb obeys Ohm’s Law.

Answers through the comments box please, preferably with working…..