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‘Unsolvable’ maths question aimed at 11-year-olds leaves adults defeated

Another day, and another maths problem which will make weep tears of gratitude for having put your school days behind you.

It’s not dogs competing in shows today though, instead it’s goats, sheep and a ship’s captain.

The problem, which was posed to Chinese schoolchildren age 11, has left thousand of adults slack-jawed and defeated because it is literally "unsolvable."

That didn’t stop the kids valiantly having a go though.

According to the BBC , the question asks:

"If a ship had 26 sheep and 10 goats onboard, how old is the ship’s captain?"

We’ll just let that sink in for a moment…

The South China Morning Post collated some of pupils’ answers.

One desperate example (and our personal favourite) read: "The captain is 36 years old. He is quite narcissistic, so the number of animals corresponds to his age."

"The number of the sheep and goats is irrelevant to the captain’s age," read another more confident response.

Another particularly heartbreaking answer went, "The captain’s age is… I don’t know. I can’t solve this."

Adults soon caught wind of the problem, and tried to solve it themselves

"In China, if you’re driving a ship that cargo you need to have possessed a boat license for five years. The minimum age for getting a boat’s license is 23, so he’s at least 28," was one attempt .

But it was all to no avail.

As for the answer…well, there isn’t one.

Yes, we actually meant what we said when we described it as "unsolvable".

Apparently, the problem being impossible was the entire point.

In a statement , Shunqing Education Department confirmed there was no answer.

"The role of education is not to produce standardised spare parts… Each answer can reflect a different personality.

"A question that can have different answers is a good question."

Doesn’t it make you glad to no longer have to go to school?


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