Stupid Math Answer

Posted 2009.04.21 9.41 in Pointless Blather by Stephanie

A while back I posted a Stupid Math Question which was designed to test people’s cognative abilities, comprehension, attention to detail, and above-all, the ability to see beyond the obvious. 

The post contained a lengthy set-up paragraph which was phrased in a format remeniscent of the detailed questions we used to get in math class at school; a scenario was presented, some facts provided, numbers thrown at you, then finally the actual question or equation which you were instructed to “solve”.

In my own Stupid Math Question, the actual question was was placed separate to the “informative” paragraph, the question was bold and underlined. The question was: 

Can you tell how many sidings both trains will pass before one of them must pull over so they can cross?

Read on, to discover the answer!

This question in fact has two possible answers…

The first, and most likely answer to the question is: NO. You see, the “informative” paragraph provided a lot of misleading/unecessary information while omitting some vital details. It was designed to confuse. The question itself was not phrased “Solve….” it was “Can you…” and if you cannot (and the question was designed so you couldn’t) then the answer is “No, I can’t.”

The second and more unlikely answer of course is YES. It is possible for one to go and look up the information I purposely withheld (namely, the exact distance between Honolulu and Anchorage). With that, one could then work out a solution to the mathematics and therefore could correctly answer “Yes, I can.”

So there you go – the Stupid Math Question was really not a math question at all. I apologize for the trickery. Incidentally, this “question” derives from a not-dissimilar question that appeared on a Mensa entry test I took many years ago. Critically, the wording of their question was almost identical, and I (correctly) answered “No”. The people at Mensa marked that answer as incorrect and I contested it because I had answered the question (can you…?) correctly (no I can’t). I went on to point out the grammatical error in their question, if they wanted me to solve the math they should have said so instead of leaving it ambiguously worded like a Trick Question. 

Appearantly the people at Mensa don’t like having their gramatical errors pointed out to them by (hung-over, high-school-aged) smart-asses.

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