## February 11, 2008

### how many?

This has always bugged me:

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?

The person telling this "riddle" usually looks smug when they tell you the answer is 1, instead of the alternate answer of 2800 you could have fairly calculated (if you were only counting the kits, cats, sacks and wives that the riddle requests)
I want to know how you can tell which direction the man and his wives are travelling in! Assuming they aren't just standing still (which is yet another option) they could also be on their way to St Ives to sell the 2744 cats, which would seriously slow them down, enabling the narrator to catch up and easily overtake them. Also, if the answer really is 1, you would have to assume that the narrator was a kit, cat, sack or wife, which was never mentioned.

This is similar to those stupid "brainteasers" like: "There's a large room with a high ceiling, a man is hanging dead at the end of a short rope 5 metres above the floor. There's nothing else in the room except a large puddle of water. How did he die?"
The "answer" is apparantly that he stood on the block of ice, put the rope around his neck and waited for the ice to melt. One problem with this, is a block of ice that big would have taken a very long time to melt, so the bloke would have died of hypothermia or starvation before he was strangled by the rope.
Who's to say though that he wasn't hung by a lynch mob who then washed away all of their footprints with a hose?