Pop question — no Googling: How many of Japan's Nobel laureates were awarded medals for their work in physics?

The answer: 10, or nearly half of the total. You could deduce from this that Japan is good at physics. Furthermore, you could deduce that Japan is good at math, which is, arguably, the bedrock of physics. And math is something Japan does very well.

If you wanted to create an arbitrary division of nations, you could start with division — long division and short division, and multiplication. And fractions, algebra and geometry: some of the stuff that = math. At the top of the pile would be a cluster of East Asian nations, such as Singapore, South Korea and Japan — countries that repeatedly score high in international rankings. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the class lie Israel, Hungary and, notably, the United States. As much as math itself is a puzzle, so too is the reason behind why Japan, along with other Asian countries, continually outperforms countries in the West in math.