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A small conundrum September 16, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Small things.

Three men walked into a shop, and bought, between them, a really really awesome… waste paper basket (what? it was the first thing I thought of) for £30.  Thinking that this was such an amazing waste paper basket, of course, that it would make their friendship stronger if they all bought it between them and put it in their living room – did I mention they lived together? and that it was entirely above board, they probably used to be in a band together when they were fifteen or something – and anyway, put this waste paper basket in their living room and just share in the joy radiating from it.

So the point of this is, they each got out a ten pound note, and they took the waste paper basket to the till, probably had a polite but witty conversation with the cashier because they were really nice guys and they liked people to feel included in their conversations, especially people in shops who come across some bastards occasionally (ask me how I know) and they each handed the cashier their ten pound note.  The cashier, also being a chatty and all-round friendly chap, said Thank you very much I hope you enjoy your waste paper basket, it is quite awesome isn’t it, and they took it with them with a smile and left the shop, with the intention of wandering down the street to a favourite café of theirs in which to partake of their preferred warm caffeinated beverages, and perhaps a toasted teacake.

Approximately two minutes and forty-five seconds after the men left the shop, the cashier realised – horror of horrors – that this waste paper basket was not in fact £30 – that was the portable pocket sandwich maker next to it (for all your pocket sandwich needs) – but it really cost £25.  So he took £5 from the till in pound coins, and hot-footed it down the road to the café in which the men were sitting buttering their teacakes, and he explained the situation to them.  Naturally they all found this very amusing, and being caring, sharing gentlemen took a pound each back, and gave the remaining two pounds to the cashier for being such an honest and all-round friendly chap.  He, being very pleased with this arrangement, assured them that he would love to do business with them again, and returned to the shop to find somebody else to be lovely to.

Now the question is this: having originally each paid £10, and received £1 back, the men each paid £9.  Add to this the £2 that they gave to the very endearing cashier, and you have £29.  So what happened to the other pound?

My sister tells me she really doesn’t like maths.  I am therefore posting this; partly because I love the counterintuitiveness of it, and partly to show that maths has a lovely side to it, and that thinking “What?!  Where did that come from?” is nothing to be afraid of.  Next week: someone goes into a really nice supermarket where the kid behind the till, who is absolutely smashing and occasionally helps out at Oxfam at weekends, is thrilled to give her cashback.  Top.



1. ruethewhirl - September 16, 2009

but, butbut. you don’t add the two pounds. you’re subtracting from the total, not adding. so you subtract the two pounds they gave to the till-monkey and you get twenty five pounds.

i did maths!


stitchthisdarling - September 17, 2009


2. Callan - September 17, 2009

I like the way this has been put – I’ve heard it before but with three men in a hotel room. This is quirkier (sp?) =)

stitchthisdarling - September 18, 2009

Everything is better for the addition of a toasted teacake 🙂 anyway, why would you buy a waste paper basket in a hotel room??

Callan - September 19, 2009

nope, they were paying for the hotel room. There was a problem so they had to share a single room, and the hotelier realised he’d overcharged them and sent the bellboy up with £5 change, but he, stuck on how to evenly divide £5 between three, gave back only £3 and kept £2 for himself.


3. luciainfurs - September 19, 2009

OW, OW, OW, my feeble head! I’m leaving maths for good.

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