St. Ives

“In my third grade class we had a week where each student had to present a riddle to the class and see if the class could figure it out. That was a long time ago, so I don’t remember them all, but one was so absurd that I’ll never forget it. It was this boy in my class who usually didn’t say much. He got to the front with no paper of notes with the riddle on it and just began without any indication.”

“The riddle was.. ‘I was going on a trip to St. Ives when I met this man. This man had seven wives. Each of his wives had seven cats. Each cat had seven homes. Each home had seven balls of yarn. Each yarn had seven different thimbles. Each thimble had seven different boxes. Each box had seven different shelves. How many people or things did I run into on my way to St. Ives?’.”

“So immediately I see all my classmates on scratch pieces of paper writing 7×7 over and over or 7+7×7 or something like that. I remember not even wanting to put in the effort to figure out how many sets of seven there were. People started punching numbers into their calculators and shouting out random answers. They all started off being really high numbers because the riddle made it sound like there were so many things. After a few minutes of chaos, our teacher took back control of the class. She then started to chuckle at us and said that we needed to pay more attention rather than get lost in the numbers.”

“The boy then had the ability to tell us we were all wrong. ‘The answer is 1’ he said. We all looked around at each other like what? How could the answer possibly be 1? He further explained that the most important part of the riddle was the beginning. He met one man on the way to St. Ives, not all of his wives and their kittens and the kittens yarn. I remember feeling played! It was so easy but we all made it so difficult.”


My interpretation of the story:


In the riddles I have seen throughout my life, I can usually find a common theme of the answer was a lot easier than I originally had imagined. I think that there is something in our minds that allow us to make things more complicated, especially when we think the answer is supposed to be complicated. This riddle reminds me of a similar one about a bus. It begins by saying that you are driving a bus with 18 people on it. It continues by saying that there are all these stops and this many people get on and that many people get off at each stop. I remember listening to it and thinking that I have to keep track of all of these numbers to get the riddle right. The end question of the riddle was “What is the color of the bus drivers eyes?” When I finally heard what I was aiming to figure out, I was annoyed because the whole time I had been focusing on the number of people getting on and off the bus at each stop, that I couldn’t even remember who was driving the bus and couldn’t possibly know the color of their eyes. The part to focus on of the riddle was the beginning, that stated I was the one driving the bus, and there for the answer to the riddle was the color of my own eyes, something so simple. Riddles have a way of causing distractions to take the person being questioned’s focus away from the part that will give them the answer. This can be seen a lot through magicians also. The trick to magic is distraction and confusion, which allows the person who is watching to think that things are actually happening when, in fact, they are not.