Friday, December 9, 2011

Die Hard because of St. Ives Riddle

This innocent riddle was a matter of life and death in the movie "Die Hard with a Vengeance" when protagonist had 30 seconds to solve it and then telephone the villain on the number "555 plus the riddle answer" or a bomb would detonate.

As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
Every wife had seven sacks
Every sack had seven cats
Every cat had seven kits
Kits, cats, sacks, wives
How many were going to St Ives?

Can you solve it?

Answer ideas accepted any time until midnight on Saturday December 10th (EST), on our Family Puzzle Marathon. They will be hidden till then and everyone who submitted something reasonable will get a puzzle point.


anne-marie said...

The mathematical answer would be 2802 but you can understand whatever you want from this riddle.
We could count only the people, only the narrator or the narrator and the man or why not none of them.
The narrator could have change his mind when he met the people so only 8 people could have gone or what if the narrator and the man went somewhere else thenyou have 7 people who are going to St Ives or 2800.
My answer is that there is no answer and if there is one, I choose the mathematical one, 2802.

Ellina said...

2795 were going to St Ives: the storyteller, the man he met, the man's 7 wives, their 49 sacks, the 343 cats inside the sacks, and the 2401 kittens of all those cats.

anne-marie said...

Congratulations for the new baby girl Maria!

Ellina said...

2802 were going to St Ives: the storteller, the man he met, the man's 7 wives, their 49 sacks, the 343 cats inside the sacks, and the 2401 kittens of those cats. :-)

Jerome said...

Well technically only one, whoever "I" was. But suppose the man with seven whatever's was also going to St. Ives and "I" is just catching up to him and his mob? How many then? Including "I" and the man, I get 2802, but it spoils the joke.

SteveGoodman18 said...

Only 1 was going to St. Ives. The puzzle states that "I" was going to St. Ives, but not the man with 7 wives. So, the phone number to dial would be 555-0001.

Wang said...

Only one person was going to St. Ives though it is entirely possible that the man with seven wives, seven sacks, seven cats, seven kits were going to St. Ives as well but the puzzle is too vague and does not specify so the answer is one.

Mai Barker said...

The answer is 2800.

7 wives
7 x 7 = 49 sacks
7 x 7 x 7 = 343 cats
7 x 7 x 7 x 7 = 2401 kits

= 2800

(If the man is added, which is a bit unclear in the riddle, the answer would obviously be 2801).

Tom said...

I like it, but the poem only states that "I" was going to St. Ives. It does not state that the man also was going, with or without wives and gear. One?

Lynnet said...

1 person was going to St. Ives. It says, "as I was going to St. Ives I met a man...," implying that the man was going the opposite direction.

Anonymous said...


Jerome said...

If "I" was going in the same direction as the man and his bunch the question asks how many from the wives down were going to St. Ives. It does not include "I" and the man who had 7 wives. The result is 2401. If you include the husband then the result is 2402 are going to St. Ives. If "I" is included then there is a grand total of 2403 going to St. Ives.

Bean said...

One. Just me.

But 2402 people/animals/things were going the other way.


(or 555-2403 if you stipulate that they were going in the same direction and "met" somehow means "passed", which it might with such an entourage.)

Dalek Luna said...

One. The riddle never said the man and his wives and all that were actually going to St. Ives. Only the teller of the riddle was going.

Anonymous said...

I got 2800 by multiplying and then adding each of the four products. It did not ask to count the man.


Ilya said...

He says he met all these people and pets as he was going to St Ives, but he does not say where they were all going. If they were going somewhere else, then the answer is one (just the man). If they were actually all going to St Ives then the answer is 1 original man + 1 man + 7 wives + 49 sacks with (7 cats + 49 kits) = 2753 breathing creatures.

Annie said...

I think the answer depends on how you interpret the question and how many assumptions you make. It only states that he/she, the narrator, is going to St. Ives so a reasonable answer would be one.

If we assume the man, his wives and all the sacks, cats and kits are going as well the answer would be 2802. If you want to know how many "beings" are going it would be 2753 ( - sacks)

He/she -1
Man met - 1
Wives - 7
Sacks - 49
Cats - 343
Kittens - 2401

Total - 2802

TracyZ said...

(Another riddle? -- I like algebra so much more. :))

I think that the best answers to this riddle are 0 or unknown. The question asked in the riddle is "Kits,cats, sacks, wives, how many were going to St. Ives?" The only person that we know for sure is going to St. Ives is the narrator -- "as _I_ was going to St. Ives" and the narrator isn't asked about in the riddle's question. The narrator met a man with seven wives, but that man may or may not have been going to St. Ives, and the same is true of his wives, cats, and kits.

Anonymous said...

My first guess to the st. ives riddle is one. The speaker is going to st. ives, but he doesn't actually say that all these wives and cats are also going. In fact, he doesn't even state that the man with the wives is going either, just that he met him along the way.

via email from Jessica K.

Maria said...

You are all correct - the puzzle is ambiguous. There are two possible answers: 1 and 2802. Some of us had trouble with addition and got other interesting numbers :)

We know for sure that the narrator was going to St Ives - 1. The rest of the characters may have been going toward him (from St Ives), to St Ives or in any other direction. The intended answer in the movie is "1" and the phone number to dial is 555-0001. After several guesses this puzzle is solved in the movie but not before the 30 seconds deadline...

What if the whole gang was going to St Ives as well? In this case the answer is 2802.

Copying Annie's neat explanation:
narrator -1
Man he/she met - 1
Wives - 7
Sacks - 49
Cats - 343
Kittens - 2401

Total - 2802

I will give a puzzle point to those who got either of these answers.

Maria said...

Next week - we will celebrate Jerome's 10 puzzle points with a puzzle about him.

kj said...

Of course, I have always viewed this as a trick problem. The riddle only states that the narrator is going to St. Ives, so the answer is 1.

Summing up the other pieces of the problem is a good illustration of a very powerful formula:

1 + x + x^2 + x^3 + ... + x^n = (x^(n+1) - 1)/(x - 1)
for x <> 1

It is the basis for the formulas for present value/future value of a stream of payments (like mortgage payments or an annuity or monthly deposits to a savings account or "Christmas Club" as the banks had when I was young), among other formulas.

Here we want to compute 7^0 + 7^1 + 7^2 + 7^3 + 7^4 = (7^5 - 1)/(7 - 1) = 2801 for the man, his seven wives, the sacks, the cats and the kits.

To see that the general formula works, look at what happens when we multiply the summation by x and then subtract the summation:

x*(x^0 + x^1 + x^2 + ... + x^n) - 1*(x^0 + x^1 + x^2 + ... + x^n)
= (x - 1)*(x^0 + x^1 + x^2 + ... + x^n)
= (x^1 + x^2 + x^3 + ... + x^(n+1)) - (x^0 + x^1 + x^2 + ... + x^n)
and you see most terms will cancel out
= x^(n+1) - x^0
So we have
(x - 1)*(x^0 + x^1 + x^2 + ... + x^n)= x^(n+1) - 1
and if x<>1 we can divide both sides by x - 1
giving us
(x^0 + x^1 + x^2 + ... + x^n)= [x^(n+1) - 1]/(x - 1)

The Piczo Kids said...

Its either 1 or 2 because it says the narrator met a man when he was going to saint ives. It says A MAN. This means he only met the man, not his wives. The questioan remains whether the narrator and the other man were both going to saint ives or just the narrator

Zul Othman said...

1 - the man was going to st. ives

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