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This 'impossible' maths question is stumping the internet

Posted by
Dave Fawbert
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Maths calculator

The internet is awash with tricky maths questions, which you can’t help but have a go at yourself, just to check that you are, as you suspect, a genius.

Hey, we’ve been known to feature one or two in our time.

So when you hear something described as impossible, you take it with a pinch of salt don’t you? “Well, they might think it’s impossible but they haven’t reckoned upon my superhuge megabrain which I would back to solve any maths question ever, even if I only got a C at GCSE and this was one that Einstein himself described as ‘a bit of a headscratcher’”.

Well, this time, believe the hype people.

Because this is a genuine maths exam problem posed in China:

The question reads: “If a ship had 26 sheep and 10 goats on board, how old is the ship’s captain?”

What?

Unsurprisingly, as the South China Morning Post reported, students struggled somewhat for an answer. These were a selection of their efforts:

“The captain is 36 years old. He is quite narcissistic, so the number of animals corresponds to his age.”

Like that one.

“The captain is 36, because 26+10 is 36 and the captain wanted them to add up to his age.”

Yep, same principle.

“The number of the sheep and goats is irrelevant to the captain’s age.”

This, surely, is technically correct? Although we don’t know do we?

“The captain’s age is… I don’t know. I can’t solve this.”

This is probably the most honest answer.

“The captain should be at least 18 years old because a minor is not allowed by law to operate a vessel.”

A very good answer.

But the most accurate answer? Probably this, from a Weibo commenter:

“The total weight of 26 sheep and 10 goat is 7,700kg, based on the average weight of each animal. In China, if you’re driving a ship that has more than 5,000kg of cargo you need to have possessed a boat license for five years. The minimum age for getting a boat’s license is 23, so he’s at least 28.”

However, in a statement, Shunqing Education Department confirmed there was, in fact, no answer.

They said:

“The role of education is not to produce standardised spare parts… Each answer can reflect a different personality. A question that can have different answers is a good question.”

Well, yes we see what you’re getting at Shunqing Education Department. But, for example, the question: “Should I eat this delicious arsenic sandwich?” really has only one correct answer doesn’t it? You can get as creative as you like with the answer but if you take a bite out of that baby then you’re going down.

(Image: Pixabay)