The Intended Answers

I recently posted two trick questions.

First question. What is the answer to this question?

The title to this post was the same as the content except for the question mark: What is the Answer to This Question. The title contained the answer: WHAT.

What I like about trick questions is that sometimes people produce alternative answers that are as good as the intended ones. For this problem I like the following answers:

  • If you have a compiler which converts recursion to loops, then infinite loop. Otherwise, stack overflow. (by aphar)
  • Chocolate is the answer. It doesn’t matter what the question is. (by Mark James)
  • 42. (by Clao)
  • This is the Answer to that Question. (by Javifields)

Second question. How many letters are there in the correct answer to this question?

The intended answer was FOUR, as four is the only number in the English language for which the number of letters in its name is equal to the number itself. Many people used variations on the theme and supplied the following answers by writing out numbers in non-canonical ways:

  • Positive fifteen. (by my AMSA students)
  • One plus twelve. (by Michael and MQ)
  • Two plus eleven. (by MQ)
  • Maybe eleven. (by Michael Albert)
  • Certainly sixteen. (by Michael Albert)
  • Zero plus one plus two plus three plus …. (by Bob Hearn)

Some people used sentences to express numbers:

  • Any number n whose value can be expressed using n letters, for example sixty seven. (by Michael Albert)

Some other people used Roman numerals and digits to express the answer:

  • I, II, or III (by my AMSA students)
  • 0 (by my AMSA students, Leo, and lvps1000vm)

Many people pointed out that if the puzzle would be asked in other languages, it would produce completely different answers.

But the majority of my AMSA students took a completely different approach:

  • 30.

This is because there are thirty letters in the phrase the correct answer to this question.


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