Saturday, February 7, 2009

How many? I'm asking - How many?

There is a nursery rhyme that many of us were taught when we were young. Usually, it was told by your father who wanted to see if you had learned any math (maths, if you aren't American).

Anyway, I never seemed to come up with the right answer, even after my father told me the right answer, and even after he walked away shaking his head at his child's dumbness.

I learned (memorized) the answer before too long, but it was much later before I really "got" it.

There is only one rule: you can't use pencil and paper or a calculator: you must do it in your head.

And here is your only hint: don't forget to add yourself into the total.

Here is the nursery rhyme:

As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
And every wife had seven sacks
And every sack had seven cats
And every cat had seven kits
Kits, cats, sacks, wives
How many were going to St Ives?

Special note: if you remember this from your childhood and also remember the answer, please don't comment right away. Instead, please wait until some of the others give their totals. This is only so the rest of us can laugh at them for maybe getting the total wrong even with the hint given. K?


  1. Please sir, please sir!! Me! Me! I know the answer, sir! I went to St Ives specially to check.

  2. As a strictly logical construct, I would say the information given is not sufficient to supply a definitive answer. And was it St Ives in Cambridgeshire or the one in Cornwall?
    It's too snowy today to go to St Ives.

  3. Laugh away, if you must. I don't mind. There are nine people going to St. Ives and 49 x 7 cats

    Round the cats up to 50 and multiply by seven, that's 350, less 7 (to get you back to 49). So 343 cats, each with 7 kittens.

    343 x 7 = 2401 total kittens(I did do this in my head so probably it is wrong)

    Cat total = 343
    Kitten total = 2401
    Human total = 9
    Sentient beings total = 2853

    If you must include the sacks, and the penultimate line implies that you do (which is weird) that's 49 sacks, giving you a total of 2902.

    Which sounds completely wrong to me. There must be some trick or catch involved. Please explain!

  4. One trick may be an aptitude for mental math, of course.

  5. I too know the answer and it will surprise you.

  6. @A. - Okay, you can give the answer when the time comes. How come you know everything? :)

    @Soubriquet - What do you mean? The sacks?

    @Lidian - I would never laugh at you. Promise. That was not meant for you. Only Ettarose, but she says she knows and I believer her. Nursery rhymes are her strong suite.Your math is good.

    @Ettarose - Yes it surprised me that you know the answer. :)

  7. Well it is only 1:30 am in A.-ville now, so we will have to wait another 6 hours while she gets her beauty sleep.

  8. wait ... should I include my sack?

    /mentally carries the 12 ...

  9. And the answer is

    1 (one)

    The theory is (and it has always bothered me, even as a child) that in order for me to meet the man and his seven wives, they must have been going in the opposite direction, leaving St Ives.

    Now, you see, I've always thought it perfectly possible that the man and his wives were travelling in the same direction but at a different speed, so that either I caught up with them, or they caught up with me. It's still a meeting, is it not?

    Or, it could have been that they were travelling from the east and I from the west, we met and travelled on south.

    As you can tell, I spent many fruitless and troubled hours worrying about this as a child. Mainly because I always got the answer wrong. But also because the argumentative spirit may have started to emerge at that tender age. Possibly.

  10. Lord. You can't even give a simple answer to a nursery rhyme puzzle without being disruptive! You have confused them more than they were before. Can't you just explain the "met" part and let it go? And you still didn't give the answer, which is "one". Argh!

    "Argumentative spirit? Is THAT what you call it? I say you can take the girl out of Ireland, but you can't take the Irish out of the girl. But I am happy to live with it. You have several redeeming qualities..

    :) :) :) :) :)

    In my reading, I saw where they think this little riddle has been around in some form since 1000 BC, so it isn't just an English nursery rhyme.

    Thank you, A. I have another, but I think I had better wait a few days. Still don't know what Soubriquet was talking about. And he will never admit getting sucked in to doing the maths. :)

  11. @Canucklehead - Sure. Include your sack. :) And if you knew you were quitting Entrecard, why didn't you just send me all your credits instead of buying so man ads? I don't know about this new thing. I looked at it, but they didn't seem to really explain it. Or I lost interest. Is this that turnip guy? I will go back and read more. I saw Ken on the forums. But he balances you out, brains-wise, so I still don't know. Take care my friend.

  12. Okay Max, The answer is one that we know of.
    The narrator states that he (or she) was going to St Ives. Now the man with seven wives, it's not stated whether he was coming, going, living in between, or crossing the path of the narrator. Furthermore it's not clear whether the seven wived man, (polygamy is illegal in Britain, by the way), was actually with the wives. cats, kits, sacks.... Obviously, even if you were to assume the wives and the man were going to St Ives, the cats and kits would not count, nor the sacks... But the question is so ambiguous that an exact answer escapes us. There's only one person who declares himself to be going to St Ives.

    A, by the way, The man need not be coming the other way to be met. He could be stationary, having a rest break, or just moving more slowly so the narrator overtakes him. But as the question does not state so, it is just as likely that he's coming from St Ives as going to it.

    So I repeat, the information given with the question is so poorly phrased that there can be no definitive answer.

  13. oops sorry A, I see you said all that already.
    As for not being sucked into doing the math, Max, people like A and me were brought up on math exercises similar to this, and there were a lot of trick questions. So the first lesson you learn is to study the question and decide which, if any, calculation needs to be done. Often the answer, like in this one, is none. Cats kits sacks and wives are all irrelevant to the question.

  14. @Soubriquet - I'm guessing you were born in Ireland too. :)

    Okay, I know you weren't. You can be an honorary citizen though. Damn sure can.

    I remember in high school we were being tested on how well we could interpret instructions. There was a 20-question quiz. At the top, in large letters was the instruction, "Read each question carefully before you begin this test." Yeah, yeah. And, when I got to question 20, it read, "You do not have to take this test." Bastards.

  15. I knew it was one. I am good for something, just don't know what.

  16. I knew this one, but I hadn't thought about the potential for "I" catching up with the SevenUP man as opposed to him coming from the opposite direction. Of course, when I heard it, I knew the answer, but I still had to do all the math. And I love cats, but you couldn't pay me to put more than one in an enclosed space.

  17. @Bill - Yes we can. Sorry.

    @Ettarose - Just keep comin' around. :)

    @Janet - I knew you really knew the answer. And I also knew you would still do the math. You like to cover all your bases. :)

    Love the "SevenUP man.)

    @Soubriquet -

    1. Think of a number. Any number. Fractions are okay. Don't care.
    2. Double it.
    3. Add 3 to that result.
    4. Divide that number by 2.
    5. Finally, subtract the number you started with from the number you have now.

    I will give you the answer tomorrow.



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