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A nagging reminder of how great I am

Have you ever sensed that glorious feeling that you are a complete genius and the rest of humanity minnows?

I know I have. Although I must admit that as time slips by in this modern world actual instances of the phenomenon are becoming rarer and rarer, I had one on Wednesday.

Let me expand.

As part of my lock-down regime – when my post-lunch nap doesn’t overrun by an hour to ninety minutes and/or I just cannot be arsed and dream up an excuse – for my one outing to take exercise I set off on a circular route of approximately 5.7 miles in my locality that takes me about 1 hour 50 minutes to complete.

Afterwards I wind down with a bite to eat and some fluid intake, soak in the bath or take a shower and then appear in the living quarters to make myself a large gin & tonic and then watch the 6 O’Clock News on BBC1.

Recently my habit has been to undertake this expedition accompanied by my smartphone and a wireless earpiece, whereby I am able to listen to Radio Five Live en route.

For the reasons above, a staple of my listening on my trip is Radio Five Drive (1600 – 1900 hours), presented by Anna Foster and Tony Livesey.

Recently they have had a new segment in which a mathematician whose name I forget sets the listeners a mathematical riddle/puzzle – and then about 45 minutes later gives the answer, i.e. after the listeners have texted or email in their answers.

On Wednesday he varied the project by saying that he was going to set one that was more a matter of logic than maths.

Here it is:

You are walking along a road and come to a fork in it. You do not know which fork to take in order to reach your destination. Then you notice a bench nearby with two men sitting on it.

It so happens that one of them always tells the truth and the other always lies. You can only ask one question. What one question could you ask them both that will tell you which fork to take in order to reach your destination?

Tony Livesey commented that he thought the answer to this riddle would be fairly simple, albeit admitting that as he was saying this he didn’t know what it was.

I was walking along as I heard all this, applied myself to the quest and came up with what I thought was the obvious answer.

And then waited.

Times passed. The texts and emails came flooding in.

The moment eventually arrived for the mathematician to reveal the answer.

The answer was that the question you would ask is “What would the other man say?

I thought he was playing an April Fool or something.

That couldn’t possibly be the answer by any stretch of the imagination – and certainly not in logic.

I was only prevented from texting or emailing the programme to protest and explain why by the fact that I haven’t yet mastered how to text or email on my new smartphone.

Let me explain:

As a simple matter of straightforward logic, if you in that situation had walked up to both men sitting on the bench and asked them “What would the other man say?”, unless they were both deaf and/or educationally sub-normal, both of them would have replied “About what?” or even “Which other man?”

The proper answer should have been that the question you would ask is “I am trying to reach [name of destination]. If I take that fork [pointing at either one], would the man beside you say that was the right one to take?

Actually, of course, if you right got down to it, there are also other weaknesses in this set-up.

Firstly, did the two men sitting on the bench actually know each other – and therefore knew of each other’s propensity always to tell the truth, or indeed the opposite? Obviously, if they didn’t know each other (well, certainly this aspect of each other), you’d be wasting your time even asking them a question at all!

Secondly, of course, for this riddle to work you’d have to know or assume that both men sitting on the bench had both heard of the destination you were attempting to reach – and indeed knew where it was.

In real life, you’d have to ask them both at least two questions – the first being “Do you know where [your destination] is?” because (obviously) unless you were sure they did, there’d be no point in asking them the second question! The other problem would then be that the truthful man would only answer “Yes” if he did know … and the liar would only answer “Yes” if he didn’t!

Ho hum.

Sometimes it’s a little frustrating for someone like me to be surrounded by imbeciles.





About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts