There are two solutions to this viral math problem. What’s yours?

Human beings are kind of like mathematical formulas. We can develop proofs about who we are and why we’re here, yet disagreeing on the assumptions renders these proofs meaningless.

The same of course can be said for math puzzles. Often there’s more than one solution, depending on your assumptions and how you approach the problem.

The viral math problem below is a great example of this (scroll down to see the solutions). There are two obvious answers depending on how you approach it.

It’s just like the parable with the blind men and the elephant, which originated in India.

In a distant village, a long time ago, there lived six blind men. One day the villagers announced, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had never seen or felt an elephant before and so decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” And thus they went down to the village to touch and feel the elephant to learn what animal this was and they described it as follows:

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” argued the second after touching the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” the third man spouted after touching the trunk.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man feeling the ear.

“It is like a huge wall,” sounded the fifth man who groped the belly .

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man with the tuskin his hand.

They all fell into heated argument as to who was right in describing the big beast, all sticking to their own perception. A wise sage happened to hear the argument, stopped and asked them “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.”

The wise man then calmly said, “Each one of you is correct; and each one of you is wrong. Because each one of you had only touched a part of the elephant’s body. Thus you only have a partial view of the animal. If you put your partial views together, you will get an idea of what an elephant looks like.”

As you can see, interpretation makes a big difference. How do you solve the following viral math problem?

Did you figure it out? Which of the two solutions below did you find?

The first solution is:

  • Most agree that 1 + 4 = 5.
  • In the next line, add 2 + 5 to the sum of 5 in the equation above. That gives you the answer of 12.
  • Next, apply the same formula: 3 + 6 = 9, then add the 9 to the sum in the equation above (12) to get the total of 21.
  • The last step is to take the 8 + 11 in the last equation, which equals 19, and add it to the sum of the previous problem (21). This gives you a total of 40.

However, there is a popular second solution:

  • The obvious truth is: 1 + 4 = 5. But you could also reach 5 by adding 1 to 4 times 1.
  • In the same fashion, with the second line, 2 + 2(5) = 12.
  • And the next line: 3 + 3(6) = 21.
  • Using this method to solve the problem, add 8 to 8 times 11 to get 96.

Which solution did you find? 40, or 96?

Or maybe you see the problem in a way different than the two mentioned above? What is your interpretation?

For a more in depth exploration of the solutions to this math problem, watch this video: