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Correcting St Ives

Here’s an old riddle:

As I was going to St Ives,
I met a man with seven wives.

Each wife had seven sacks;
Each sack had seven cats;
Each cat had seven kittens.

Kittens, cats, sacks, wives,
How many were going to St Ives?

The standard riddle answer is “Only one, the narrator. They met eachother, so the rest were coming from St Ives.”

That argument, however, is invalid. If they were that loaded, they would have been pretty slow, so could have been overtaken. And even if they weren’t, they could have met when one of the two parties had stopped for a rest. And there may yet be a plethora of other reasons why they could have met.

Then there’s the wording of question: “how many were going to St Ives?” It seems clear enough at first, but for strict mathematical consideration, we have to subtract the narrator and the man he mentions he met – they’re not part of the list of the final question.

Calculative answers, considering all are going to St Ives:

Humans: 9 (1 narrator, 1 “man” and 7 wives)

Living beings:
9 humans
+ 7^3 cats = 343
+ 343*7 kittens = 2401

==> 343+2401+9 = 2753 living beings

Listed items (kittens, cats, sacks, wives):

7 wives + 7^2 sacks + 7^3 cats + 7^4 kittens

==> 2800 of the listed items

That’s a lot of stuff.

The only sure thing that we can conclude from this is:
The man with the seven wives is not Christian.

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