Sometimes I mess with my students. Recently, I gave them the following problem for homework.
Puzzle. Don’t read this sentence.
This problem is a paradox: students can’t know not to read it unless they read it! I expected my students to explain the paradox, and a couple of them did. But, most of them provided me with an infinite stream of entertainment. Here are some of their answers divided into categories, starting with the apologizing ones, and there were a lot of those:
- Too late?
- My apologies.
I wasn’t surprised by the apologies, as this problem is intended to be intimidating. However, other students tried to wiggle out of it:
- Next time, I will ask my parents to read my homework to me.
- A person named Don’t read, in the past tense, “this sentence”. I read this sentence, too!
- I happen to have conveniently forgotten English, and it cannot be proven otherwise.
Yet other students decided to rebel:
- Why not?
- I didn’t.
- You just lost your game.
- I will never read anything again, as it says, “Don’t read.”
Karma is a boomerang, and this problem got me into a pickle. One of the most brilliant and funny solutions possible was to leave the answer box blank, implying that the sentence wasn’t read. However, how would I grade this? What if they just skipped the problem? I decided to err on the students’ side and gave full credit for an empty answer box.
A couple of students made a point of pretending they didn’t read the sentence:
- Which sentence?
- I see an answer box, but there’s no problem.
But I saved the best for last. My favorite answer was the following:
- Don’t read this answer.