When it’s not set in stone: The Wknd Puzzle by Dilip D’Souza

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Several years ago, I traveled through Vidarbha to meet farming families who had committed suicide. In all cases, they were in debt, often to the local loan shark. So I heard a lot of resentment towards pawn shops and their exorbitant interest rates. In one village, people even told the story of cornering one and beating him up. It was a grim journey.

Just before I left, I heard about a puzzle involving pawn shops, a puzzle where the farmer’s family ultimately won. It’s here.

A farmer, call him Kaustubh, owes a substantial sum to a loan shark, Pandurang. He can’t pay. Months go by, Pandurang grows rude and abusive, makes threatening visits to Kaustubh’s home. But Kaustubh still can’t pay.

Finally, Pandurang said, “Your daughter Pradnya is beautiful. Marry me and I will forgive you your debt.

Kaustubh and Pradnya are appalled. Pandurang sees this and decides to force his hand further. He is proposing something new. Pointing to the pebbles on the ground, he said, “I’m going to put a black pebble and a white pebble in this bag. Pradnya has to get one out. If it’s black, she marries me and I forgive the debt. If it’s white, she doesn’t marry me and I forgive the debt anyway. But if she refuses to pick up a rock, I’ll have you thrown in jail for not returning my money.

The farmer’s family has no choice. And then Pradnya notices that when Pandurang bends down to pick up two pebbles, he surreptitiously chooses two black ones for the bag.

What should she do now? If she refuses to choose, her father will go to jail. If she pulls a pebble off, she will have to marry this terrible man. If she takes out the two black pebbles and exposes it, who knows how he might react, and the debt will always remain.

Question: What is Pradnya doing?

Scroll down for the answer.

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Reply:

Pradnya puts her hand in the bag, pulls out a pebble and deliberately fumbles it, letting it fall. With so many pebbles around, she knows it will be impossible to tell which one she chose.

Then she said, “Let’s just look at the other pebble in the bag. We will know the color of the one I chose from the one that remains.

Pandurang is not happy. A few seconds later, Kaustubh is really happy. He and Pradnya thank Pandurang profusely and go home, finally debt-free.

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