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Math or Mystery

220. Math or Mystery

A while ago I came upon this math problem and offer it here to you to solve or to revel in the mystery of the solution.

A farmer died and to his three sons he left 17 cows. His will stated that the oldest son should get half of the cows; his middle son should get a third of all the cows; and his youngest son should get one ninth of all the cows. O.K.—now you do the math and see what you come up with.

Hard to do isn’t it? Well the sons had a hard time too but kept trying to figure it out with not much luck. A neighbor came by and they gave him the problem. He listened and then said, “I think I’ve got a solution. I’ll be right back.”

He left and a little while later he came back with a cow. He gave it to them and said, “Now you can obey the will and the total number of cows is 18. They did the figuring and the neighbor was right: it was easier. The oldest son got half of the 18 cows, so he got nine cows. The middle son got one third of the 18 cows and that meant that he got six cows. The youngest son got one ninth of the 18 cows and he got two cows. Nine cows, and six cows, and two cows add up to 17, so they were able to obey the will, plus give the one cow back to the neighbor.

Isn’t that strange?

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