Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Kittens, cats, sacks, wives

Today's post documenting my Aarhus yarn crawl is again at Toxophily.

At Archer's parent-teacher conference on Tuesday, while I was still on my way back from Denmark, Noel heard a typical Archer anecdote from his teacher. It seems that the class was talking about the old riddle "As I Was Going To St. Ives" a while back. You remember it, don't you?

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 sack had seven kittens
Kittens, cats, sacks, wives
How many were going to St. Ives?

The teacher was writing the numbers up on the board and exclaiming over how difficult it was going to be to total it all up. Another student volunteered the answer -- one -- and said that he had seen it in a book.

Later that day, Archer went up to his teacher and said "2801."

"2801 what?" she asked.

"2801 people going the other way," he replied.

I like to think of him sitting at his desk patiently figuring it up in his head. Because the official answer has always been unsatisfying to me, too, avoiding as it does all the interesting calculations in favor of a patently unmotivated assumption that one can't meet people traveling the same direction as you.

1 comment:

Doc Thelma said...

I actually remembered that answer, not because I ever calculated it, but because the Betty Lou Muppet did on Sesame Street.

Me, I always wondered why 1) sacks were counted as living beings and 2) the guy wasn't picked up for polygamy.

Glad your travels went well.