What is the St. Ives problem?
The St. Ives problem is one of deduction and reasoning. The centuries-old original poem states:
While on my way to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives.
Each wife had seven sacks;
Each sack had seven cats;
Each cat had seven kits.
Kits, cats, sacks, wives;
How many were going to St. Ives?
By this time, most people start adding and multiplying, trying to come up with the answer. But in reality, it’s a trick question: The narrator is on the way to St. Ives; the group he or she met along the way were leaving, not going to, St. Ives. Therefore, the number “going to St. Ives” equals (at least) one: the narrator.
Of course, there are some mathematicians who can’t leave well enough alone, and have calculated the total number of cats, kits, sacks, and wives, based on a geometric series. According to this equation, 2,801 were going to St. Ives, if the man, his wives, their cats, etc. had turned around.