A math question surfaced on social media Monday, May 15 and the best and brightest from across the Internet still have no idea how to solve it. Reports first stated that the puzzle was from a math exam for kids in Singapore — seven-year olds to be exact — but don't feel too bad about your number crunching skills just yet, because Singapore's Ministry of Education informed Mashable that there were "no examinations for Primary 1 students." While excellent news for the first graders, this revelation has left many people scratching their heads not just over the problem's solution, but the true origin of the question itself. Over the course of the week, the innocent math question has become a mystery wrapped in an enigma, so buckle up my friends for an educational whodunnit (and howdoit) for the ages!
The viral math problem entered the spotlight as a humble photo posted on an online forum of what appears to be a bonus question worth four points on an exam. It states that "marks will be awarded for correct answers. No marks will be deducted for any wrong answers." As one Twitter commenter notes with perfect sarcasm, without consequences, "you can literally put whatever you want in the circles."
The question asks that students fill in the missing numbers based on the number pattern, however, with only five numbers in a bubble and no hints given on how to go about solving it, tackling the problem has proved a challenge.
Adults appeared befuddled as to how to approach the puzzle (could it be that our brains are not as lithe and malleable as seven-year-olds?). Twitter replies ran the gamut of suggesting using multiplication and division patterns to come up with possible answers, to bitter disappointment and confusion over the impossible question. Some Twitter commenters posited that the puzzle could actually solved with simple addition, however, there was a typo on the sheet.
While the typo idea may sound farfetched at first, a version of the question actually has been floating around the interwebs for quite some time. "The question bears a striking resemblance to one that has previously appeared on a math blog by Gordon Burgin, who calls himself an author of Maths Puzzles," Mashable notes. "The two questions are almost identical, with only one difference. The bottom-left number in Mr Burgin's puzzle is 20 instead of 2."
This isn't the first time the Internet has been duped by a school-grade math problem from Singapore. In 2015, a TV presenter introduced the "Cheryl's Birthday" problem, which is definitely worth a revisit if you're looking for more math-related reps. Thought at first to be intended for fifth graders, it was later revealed to be leaked from the Singapore and Asian Schools Math Olympiads (SASMO), a competition for 14-year-olds. Regardless of these problem's intended age groups, it's definitely time to revisit my core math skills. I wonder if there is a clever seven-year-old available to tutor me?