The World’s Toughest Math Problem, Can You Solve It?

The World's Toughest Math Problem, Can You Solve it?
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The world’s toughest math problem, can you solve it? To be honest, you clicked the link to find out what the author thinks is the world’s toughest math problem. Right? You don’t even know if you could answer the world’s toughest math problem. Most of us, I am guessing, would like to see the world’s toughest math problem, just to see if we thought we had a shot. Oh sure, some of you absolutely believe you can answer the question, even though you have never seen the problem. There will probably be few surprises ahead for you but, humor me.

The World’s Toughest Math Problem Discovered

You have seen the memes over the years, simple math problems with a tagline like, “Only a Genius Can Solve This!”. There are many different memes, but there have been two question types raised by most. The first are memes which are asking you to pay attention to detail more than they are asking a math problem. See the image for an example.

The World's Toughest Math Problem isn't Fruit
Visual Fruit Problem

The other type is some basic algebraic question in the relative form of a(b+c). This is the type of problem we will be addressing. These memes bring about endless chains of back and forth over PEMDAS (or maybe BOMDAS) the cutesy little words we are taught that supposedly remind us how to organize math problems. I call it a failure of socialism in a previous article. My adventures in basic math over the last decade have shown me a few things: 1) People know these acronyms. 2) People know what words are used to make them. 3) People do not know much else about how to organize and thus solve a math problem.

The World’s Toughest Math Problem is Here

2(2+2) = X

Say it: two times the quantity two plus two equals X.

Solve for X.

That is, it. I kid you not. Maybe you are disappointed? Perhaps you thought it would be something so much more complicated? Then it would be easy to just skip passed it and forget the whole thing right!? But you saw it and you solved it didn’t you? If not, go ahead, I’ll give you a second.

Did you come up with the number Eight? Congratulations! You just solved the World’s Toughest Math problem! Maybe? If you managed to get an answer other than eight, I don’t and can’t offer much help for you here, maybe not anywhere.

To Be So Right and Yet So Wrong

Just because you arrived at the right answer does not mean you solved the problem correctly. You can answer that problem correctly while still performing the math operationally wrong. That is what makes it the World’s Toughest Math Problem. Try this one.

2(2*2) = X

Say it out loud and solve for X.

Two times the quantity two times two equals X.

Did you just get the same answer for two completely different problems?

If you came up with 16, you’re got this basic stuff down. Let us focus on the people who just solved two clearly different problems with the same answer. I must make it clear; this is not a trick of math. These two problems have different answers. Neither of the problems are written incorrectly or need to be re-written to add or exclude anything that is not a natural normal part of organizing a math problem. I repeat, it is not a trick. Enter these problems in a calculator and you may or may not get the right answer. Not all calculators can perform the math. Your browser/search engine will probably tell you the wrong answer because it is not capable of performing the math.

The World's Toughest Math Problem Isn't That Tough
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Distribution and The Order of Operations

To solve this problem the distribution method must be used. Distribution must happen first because of the order of operations. The “P” in PEMDAS is for Parenthesis. This tells us NOT to solve the equation inside the parenthesis first but remove the parenthesis before solving the equation inside it. To solve the problem inside the parenthesis first is to start the operation out of order. Let’s look at our initial problem.

2(2+2) = X

Say it: two times the quantity two plus two equals X.

Solve for X.

If we solve inside the parenthesis first what remains?

2(4) = X

Two times the quantity four equals X.

The parenthesis is still there. We worked out of order and used addition first. While it is true, two times (the quantity) four equals eight, and eight is the answer, if we do the same thing to a different problem it quickly exposes why you remove the parenthesis first.

2(2*2) = X

Say it, two times the quantity two times two equals X. Solve for X. Let’s solve it wrong by doing the math inside the parenthesis first, in this case multiplying two and two.

2(4) = X

We started with multiplication and the parenthesis are still there. We are again out of order and doomed to get the wrong answer. The answer to the problem 2(2*2) is not 8.

Here Comes the Moment of Truth

I’ve been called a “liar”, a “trickster”, and a “showoff”, for simply knowing how to solve a math problem like this. I had more than one person over the last decade try to tell me that the math I am doing is “old math”. As if math has changed. As if somehow all the previous math in the world was suddenly wrong because Joe Social Media can’t possibly be wrong. Or, more to the point, I couldn’t possibly be right.

It’s real hard to be humble at this point. I’ve watched people berate and belittle others over these problems. I can’t count the number of times I’ve listened to people justify why they get their math wrong. Let me explain this in the most simple terms; just because someone can explain why they’re wrong doesn’t make them right. To continue to claim being right in the face of overwhelming irrefutable evidence is to be a fool. Don’t be a fool. Accept being wrong and learn from it. Check out my weekly radio broadcast and follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more enlightenment.