I met a man with Seven Wives

>>  Friday, November 04, 2011

I was tagged by a tea making friend to do a seven things thing.  I'm rubbish at those but it set me thinking about this:

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?

I often have this rhyme going round in my head.  I don't know why.  I can never remember the answer.  I always think the answer is 1, but then I can never remember if it is or if I am just wrong every time.  So courtesy of wikipedia, for yours and my own satisfaction the answer is any of 1, 2802, 2800, 2, 0, 8 (9) or 2752.  If you care how,  read them at the end of this post.

So there we are, my seven thing thing!  Now if my bloggerty friend was hoping for a slightly better commitment from me, in answer I share one of my other favourite rhymes:

If wishes were horses
Beggars would ride.
If turnips were watches
I would wear one by my side.
If wishes were fishes,
We'd all cast our lines.
And if if's and an's were pots and pans,
There'd be no work for tinkers!

In my world it's the effort that counts! And given my recent achievement record, that's a good job.

ANSWER from Wikipedia:

All potential answers to this riddle are based on its ambiguity because the riddle only tells us the group has been "met" on the journey to St. Ives and gives no further information about its intentions, only those of the narrator. As such, any one of the following answers is plausible, depending on the intention of the other party:
  • 1: If the group that the narrator meets is assumed not to be traveling to St. Ives (this is the most common assumption), the answer would be one person going to St. Ives; the narrator.
  • 2802: If the narrator met the group as they were also travelling to St. Ives (and were overtaken by the narrator, plausible given the large size of the party), the answer in this case is all are going to St. Ives; see below for the mathematical answer.
  • 2800: If the narrator and the group were all travelling to St. Ives, the answer could also be all except the narrator and the man since the question is ambiguous about whether it is asking for the total number of entities travelling or just the number of kits, cats, sacks and wives. This would give an answer of 2,800 — 2 fewer than the mathematical answer below.
  • 2: Two is also a plausible answer. This would involve the narrator meeting the man who is assumed to be travelling to St. Ives also, but plays on a grammatical uncertainty, since the riddle states only that the man has seven wives (and so forth), but does not explicitly mention whether the man is actually accompanied by his wives, sacks, cats, and kittens.
  • 0: Yet another plausible is zero, once again playing on a grammatical uncertainty. The last line of the riddle states "kits, cats, sacks, wives ... were going to St. Ives?" Although the narrator clearly states he is going to St. Ives, by definition he is not one of the kits, cats, sacks, or wives, and based on the common assumption that the party was not going to St. Ives, the answer is zero.
  • 8: If not including the animals, the narrator if he meets, the man and his seven wives. (Kelloggsville nb: I'm not convinced this one shouldn't be 9)
  • 2752: The sacks are not a person or animal and therfor can´t be just in the Multiplication. it was not the number of entities, but of "persons" the narroter meet. 49 Adult cats 343 Kittes pr. wife of which he had seven (7 x 392) = 2744 plus the seven vifes 2751 plus the man 2752 persons and animals.

The mathematical answer to the total number of people, sacks, and felines involved is 2,802, calculated as follows:
  • Narrator: 1
  • The man whom he met: 1
  • Wives: 7
We're up to 9. Now we must consider how many entities accompany just one wife:
  • Sacks: 7
  • Adult cats: 49 (7 cats per sack, of which there are 7)
  • Kittens: 343 (7 kittens per cat, of which there are 49)
  • Total number of entities per wife: 399 (7 + 49 + 343)
There are 7 wives, so we multiply 399 by 7, which equals 2,793. Now we add the narrator, the man, and the man's wives (2,793 + 9), and the grand total is 2,802.


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