A Brilliant Show

I was watching the TV show, Kaun Banega Crorepati, which is the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and hosted by Amitabh Bachnan. A contestant had made it half way through the answers and lost all his lifelines. The question he was given was, “Which of these animals is exposed to the most sunlight each year.”

A. Humpback whale

B. Salmon

C. Arctic tern

D. Monarch butterfly

The contestant took a long time, so it gave me time to think about it. Very quickly, my bet was on the last two animals. The first two animals live underwater. How can we be sure how much sunlight they are exposed to? I also started wondering if the Monarch butterfly lived less than a year. Then I started thinking of the Arctic tern. It is the animal that performs the longest migration ever, flying from the Arctic to Antarctica. Why would the show put the Arctic tern here, if it was not the correct answer? I chose this.

The contestant considered Monarch butterfly but then chose to quit. Amitabh then went on the phone with someone for a long time and I just watched. Then, they got back, and he asked the contestant which answer he might think it is. Monarch butterfly was chosen, but it turned out to be incorrect. It was the Arctic tern. Amitabh only said the Arctic tern made the aforementioned migration, the longest of any animal on the planet.

Then, it suddenly struck me! When it is summer in the North Pole and the South Pole, the sun never sets, so there is constant sunlight. The tern would only live in those regions during the summer, rather than during the eternal darkness of winter. What is more, because the seasons are different in the North and South Hemispheres, when it is summer in the Arctic, it is winter in the Antarctic. And that is the reason for the migration. When it is summer in the Antarctic, and therefore there is constant sunlight, the Arctic tern lives there, and when winter comes, bringing constant darkness, the tern flies all the way to spend the summer in the Arctic.

Therefore, the Arctic tern is exposed to constant sunlight almost the entire year. In fact, the question could well have been phrased, “Which animal is the most exposed to sunlight each year?” Had the contestant thought of it, it could have been the most brilliant moment in the history of the show.

This made me all the more endeared with the show. You see, one may think what is needed to get through the show is to know the right answer. But that is not correct. It is also useful to both know what are not the correct answers and to analyze the situation to see which answer is the most likely. For example, suppose one was asked, “Which of these animals lives in Antarctica?”

Goliath beetle

Common Kingfisher

Weddell seal

Blue footed booby

One may realize the common king fisher lives in North Africa, Europe, and Asia, the blue footed booby lives in the Americas as far south as Peru, and the Goliath beetle lives in Africa. But if one does not know anything about all four animals, then, one has to do a lot of considering. The name Goliath beetle implies a large insect. Insects grow bigger the hotter the climate is, and insects in Antarctica are all very small. As for the common kingfisher, the word common implies that it is familiar to humans and so lives in human-inhabited regions, likely the Northern Hemisphere. Since Antarctica is so remote and cold, it is unlikely an animal would live both there and in a center of human habitation. That leaves the Weddell seal and the Blue footed booby. 

If the contestant happens to know that there is a sea next to Antarctica called the Weddell Sea, he or she is good to go.

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