Wednesday, December 08, 2010

History of Mathematics.. but I thought only one went to St. Ives

An Egyptian document more than 3,600 years old, the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, contains a puzzle of sevens that bears an uncanny likeness to the St. Ives riddle. It has mice and barley, not wives and sacks, but the gist is similar. Seven houses have seven cats that each eat seven mice that each eat seven grains of barley. Each barley grain would have produced seven hekat of grain. (A hekat was a unit of volume, roughly 1.3 gallons.) The goal: to determine how many things are described. The answer: 19,607.
The New York Times story credits Marcel Danesi, "puzzle expert" at the University of Toronto. (Who knew?)
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