# The REAL Answer To The Viral Chinese Math Problem “How Old Is The Captain?”

## 100 thoughts on “The REAL Answer To The Viral Chinese Math Problem “How Old Is The Captain?””

1. MindYourDecisions says:

The entire worldwide media missed the actual history of this problem! Please tweet this at any news organization that posted a story so they can share the real story dating back to French researchers in 1979.

Update comment from Markus Schütz (also noted in tweet by Benjamin Dickman): "Actually the origin goes back to 1841: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_the_captain. In french speaking areas "… and what's the captain's age?" is a very popular saying when someone tells you a story with many unrelated details, or poses a problem in a very complicated wording, or gives you an unsolvable problem. And everyone knows that the correct answer is always "42" ;-)"

Also, some minor clarifications/corrections and one elaboration:

3:06 – A more accurate description is: Benjamin Dickman, who has a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and currently teaches math at The Hewitt School, an all girls day school in New York City. Benjamin believes such problems are well-known to math education researchers, specifically those with interests in sense-making, problem solving, and problem posing.

5:02 – the blog "has other posts, too"

Gene Wirchenko suggested elaborating the ending of the video with this point: (http://genew.ca/solving-the-right-problem-right/)

"Mathematical tools have requirements for their use. For example, if one has two of voltage, current, and resistance for some types of electrical circuits, one can compute the third using the formula E=IR. BUT you must have two of the values. If you only have one of them, you do not have enough information.

"In a real world problem, you may have to hunt down the missing information. Sometimes, you can compute a missing value from other information given in the problem.

"For example, in the problem 'Albert has 25 marbles more than Carl does. Beth has 45 marbles. Carl has 15 fewer marbles than Beth. How many marbles does Albert have?', Albert has c + 25 marbles. We do not know the value of c, but we do know that c = b – 15. That still is not enough, but since we know b = 45, we can substitute 45 for b to get c = 45 – 15 = 30 and then for c in a = c + 25 to get a = 30 + 25 = 55. Thus, Albert has 55 marbles."

2. DisenchantedCardGD says:

Yes.

3. araptuga says:

So I would split the problem identified by the researchers into two semi-separate issues:
1) assuming that every problem has an answer (and that there is only ONE such answer, and that it a specific, precise answer)
2) that the answer can always be found from elementary (random) arithmetic operations on whatever numbers are found explicitly written in the problem, without reference to whatever words/other info are provided.

Which is the more serious issue? I would say the first.
The second shows an utter lack of mathematical thinking, so you could argue that is worse, and I wouldn't disagree in a way. But that issue is also the less challenging one to correct; it's an issue of teaching "how best to figure out an answer". Still hard (I teach high school math, so I know just HOW hard!). But in a sense it's simply mastering well-defined algorithmic thinking.

The first issue however is much harder to instill, especially in school children who've been brought up to expect a simple one to one correspondence between every problem and a single solution to it. But the same issue, broadened to not just math but economic or life decisions, explains much of why we make such poor decisions as adults. I think if we exposed school children to more realistic open-ended problems, practicing and discussing them on a regular basis, they would become more thoughtful in not only their math problem-solving (thus making the second issue disappear too), but hopefully those habits would then translate into life decision-making as well.

4. JUBIN N says:

The captain is 28+40=68 years old now and enjoying his retired life ……the question was asked about 40 years ago lol

5. Mansi Mewara says:

6. Ramachandran Natarajan says:

Different question

7. Ramachandran Natarajan says:

Genius required

8. CHANAKYA SINHA says:

9. Дмитрий Дурягин says:

Oh my god, thats amazing

10. Sleepycoaster / Origami Unicorn says:

TLDR: The question was an open-ended one and part of an experiment to get students to think critically. Some students worked it out based on knowledge of their country's boat licensing laws, while most, surprisingly, simply tried arithmetic with the numbers they were provided and submitted the result.

11. Naffeti Mohamed Amine says:

Okay We got it, its nearly 40 years old no need to remind us of it every 10 seconds

12. William Richards says:

Today’s date – captain’s birthday

13. Aaniya Jhon says:

Only backbenchers can answer this question whether it may correct or not

14. Rishi Jai says:

I have a better question. If I have \$2.35 in my pocket, what is the colour of my pants. Beat that.

15. 1bikeman OnDaMoV says:

I said "irrelevant" but I thought the x>28 was a good answer 😀

16. Vijendra Shyam says:

If a rocket launch at 690 km/hr at the same time another rocket launch at 690.00 km/hr.Calculate the distance between the 1st Rocket and 2 nd by addition

17. Okoye Forever says:

I'm hungry
And I dont know what I'm gonna eat
How many tears will drop from my face because I can't decide what I want to eat?😥😥😥😥😥😥😥😥

18. Gish Gilteroy says:

If I have 10 pencils and 9 pens, what is my favorite color?

19. Mario Watcher says:

Well, I assumed that the obviously incorrect question requires some witty answer rather than a formally correct one. E.g., if it were 2 of each, it could be Noah; my version was, 26 and 10 are letters and digits, so the captain is a kid who just learned them – 6 years old.

20. Emil Romano Agramonte says:

non sequitur…

21. tina hosseini says:

i have 3 apples…today i eat 1…how many apples do ihave tomorrow?
the correct answer : 3 cause my friend will give me 1
at least you could say there is not enough information rather than saying 2!!!

22. Barry Smith says:

6 inches

23. Dave Wolfy says:

40 years! Pre-history.

24. Chantla Tan says:

Excuse me, the answer would i the imaginary number.

25. Gary Gagnon says:

OUIoui 41 years old

26. mahesh leelapandit says:

wat iz ze answer to ze eqation

27. Pablo says:

Since Lionel Messi is the only one capable to be the captain, besides the 9 other goats and sheep, the captains age is 32 years old

28. LH says:

The Captain is expecting heavy rain.

29. Ashul Beamz says:

I play 25 hours a day and drink water every 9 hours, how long is Ricardo Milos?

30. viraj gupta says:

Oh, but you forgot to tell that this was actually a French research question from "NEARLY 40 YEARS AGO!"

31. Igone says:

If I have 3 friends and have 9 subjects in school, How long was i depressed all this time?

32. Popa Ionut says:

If the speed of a train is 120 km/h,and the wind come from north,What the speed of Wi-Fi in Mars?

33. Shreyansh Pandey says:

His age is between 0 to infinity

34. Anton Kider says:

Fooooooorty years ago !!! Hahahaha….what's wrong

35. Anton Kider says:

More than 50% dislikes.

36. (〉_〈) arrgh! says:

I used to tell this joke 40 years ago.

37. (〉_〈) arrgh! says:

This problem explains the concept of the non-sequitur.

38. Shubham Singh Thakur says:

Myd- u can solve this question by a short trick and in less time
Also myd took 7min 23 sec to relate answer that it can't be determined 🤣🤣

39. Zakir Reshi says:

Why did i always forget its answer…

40. John Bowerman says:

"Nearly 40 years ago." The question is from antiquity.

41. sonali Goyal says:

Good evening sir ,
I am having one doubt. Kindly solve this
What is the number 88, if 8.8 is 54?
It's correct answer is 104 but plz tell how…

42. Shashank Singh says:

Keep videos short or else i am leaving

43. Skydes says:

A cat has 4 kittens, if 3 of them die how old is Bob?

44. Joe Caruana says:

Teacher, I was late for school because my mama tied my shoelaces too tight and I couldn't breathe.

45. Shin chan says:

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CAPTAIN AMERICA

46. Christopher Isaacs says:

I cant believe i wasted my life watchin this vid..smh

47. Matthew Leitch says:

Good video and well worth making. I'm not surprised there are many children who just throw the numbers together and offer an answer. From individual tutoring work that I do I know that kids who are struggling tend to just guess what to do. They are totally lost and trying to bluff their way through. I would be in favour of more exercises where a solution cannot be found because in practical use of mathematics that is often the case. We get little practice at identifying problems that cannot be solved or the more subtle case of problems based on situations that are logically impossible.

48. Saurabh K says:

I had 2 boil egg in dinner.. after that I took 2 Kms walk… it's 2 am and I am watching this video.. calculate my age.

49. romit lamba says:

I am wondering the teacher who awarded scores to the students should be interviewed !

50. Simonas Vaitiekunas says:

If I slap you with a right hand into right ear – which shoe will untie.

51. Robert Conti says:

My conclusion was simple. I have wasted 7 minutes on a puzzle I knew to have no solution and would never even think about sharing.

52. Merveil Meok says:

53. Priyam Jaiswal says:

Captain is flying,so he is a freely falling body so he has no weight and by the law of thugonomics he was never born🤣🤣,so his age is same as that of his grandfather i.e. 3 days

54. cosmicbeing says:

Why are there sheeps and goats onboard anyways?

55. ambati suraj says:

It's a wrong answer how could be the total weight is 7700kg
If you take avg weight of each sheep and goat will be 213.8kg so it's not possible that sheep's are much not weight 😄😄😄😄

56. skillet pan says:

Ambiguous questions are annoying in Maths exams. I remember about 30 years ago in high school I had a couple of them and pointed this out to the teachers at the time. They agreed.
Children learn in maths that their are answers to questions. In when I was about 15 or 16 we had one teacher give us an unsolvable question. We weren't told it was unsolvable. She wanted to see how we where going to try and solve it. I think it's rare that children get taught about deconstructing language and actually learning what a sentence is trying to tell you.
The Asian style of educatoin is usually just being told about the solution or how to think about a problem. I'm talking about Vietnam,China etc. Children don't really learn much to do with how to actually solve a problem that's not in a book or the teacher is telling them. This is just a symptom of that. Learning how to solve a new unknown problem is really important. Especially when young.

57. Dill Chives says:

It all depends on what age you feel it is appropriate for children to actually learn that sometimes you will be asked to solve a problem for which there truly isn't enough information, but you damn well better come up with something because the person asking definitely isn't going to accept, "Based on what's presented, I can't figure it out for sure." It seems like the ones that tried to come up with an answer have learned to critically think about the situation, and determined that, in their specific case, "I don't know" wasn't an acceptable response.

58. Paul Lyon Leongson says:

Math Error zzZzvvwzZxxz Calculator destroyed

59. raegun hiddenshock says:

To have 26 sheep and 10 goats on-board, the ship's captain must be at the right age. Therefore, he's in the LEGAL AGE.

60. William Wilson says:

Easy…42

61. Bruce Boyden says:

He was actually an Arab going out with his girlfriends.

As seen in the memes, that's how many people think of the excercises in physics books.

63. MegaJamil12 says:

What if we answered this way:

The age of the captain depend on year he was born. If he was born on 1945, he is now 74 years old. If he was born in 1968, he is now 51.

64. ted brown says:

Can not be determined by the question asked. Ask the captain himself how old he is.

65. Umang vats says:

66. Micah Watson says:

This video proves my point that a lot of scientists' conclusions are a load of crap. They do the same thing as these students, but on a larger scale…they come to conclusions without all the information required to come to an accurate conclusion… guesses and speculation. Critical thinking my friends! Don't believe everything you're taught in school.

67. TheAustralianNinja says:

I have a couple of questions.
1. Why does this video have so many dislikes?
2. How in the world did this video show up in my recommendations lmaoooo

68. James Matthews says:

What if the sheep and goats are being smuggled? Then the captain might be unlicensed and younger!

69. Edwin Chang says:

You are a bus driver. On the first stop 5 people get on the bus. On the second stop 3 people get on and 2 get off. On the third stop 7 people get on and 5 get off.

Based on Bill Gates's salary, on a scale from 1 to 10, to the nearest ten, what is the diameter of the surface area of the sun in cubic ounces? Remember to express your answer in complex form and consider all the colors of the alphabet.

70. guneet sodhi says:

In china, there's a particular age for a ship's captain to be allowed to carry this number of animals on board.
So that age limit is the answer.

71. Dark Lightning Müller's says:

Weight: 7,700kg…

72. Jake Jarvis says:

Did you guys know that this problem is nearly 40 years old? Did I tell you that it was first asked nearly 40 years ago? The problem, the one in the video, is nearly 40 years old. If you wanted to know the age of the problem, it's nearly 40 years. Nearly 40 years ago this problem was first asked. Asked nearly 40 years ago for the first time was this problem.

Like, dude… C'mon. At least mention once or twice that the problem is nearly 40 years old. People might miss that the problem is nearly 40 years old if you don't mention that it's nearly 40 years old. How else would I know it's nearly 40 years old? It's not like you mention that it's nearly 40 years old 152 times in your video or anything.

73. Mug Knee two says:

Chinese Captain got dengue

74. realcygnus says:

Q: If your mother is a hoe & your father is a rake, how many pancakes does it take to cover the doghouse roof ? A: None, because footballs don't have wheels. orff orff

75. Sebastien Morel says:

My grand-father told me that joke before 1979 when I was a kid. When I said "I don't know", he replied "Just ask him !". Also, it is common in France when you detail a complex calculation to a friend or colleague to insert for fun (but speaking normally) in your demonstration "..and divided by the age of the captain, this yields…" 😄

76. orhleil says:

Actually, according to Wikipedia, it seems that the first appearance of this problem was in a letter that Gustave Flaubert (French writer) wrote to his sister back in July 1841 : https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6533968v/f97.image.r=Flaubert%20correspondance (in French)

77. Victor Cat says:

我認為這題其實是在考學生的國文程度
會把數字加起來當答案的表示他根本看不懂大多數的字吧

78. Groovy Soul says:

When math question get personal.

79. Ian Ong says:

after i wasted my 7minutes23seconds in my life, i wasted another 10minutes to scroll through comment for random questions and answers, then i wasted 30seconds to type my comment just to get likes, but i cant get.

80. Bishu says:

As this q is 40 years old and the min age to posses a license in any country must be 20 so he must be of 60 years or older now….but if we see for being a captain staying fit is a must which is the reason 70+ age can be avoided as because till this age most of us reitre…so my ans wud be anywhere between 60 to 70.

81. VandalAudi says:

So the morale of this video is,…. the Chinese are teaching logic and open critical thinking based on an old European question, while the rest of the free world is baffled by them for asking this math problem?

82. The Last __Huh Man says:

Captain age 28 was 40 yr ago
He is 68

83. LeitÚlfr says:

This is why everything made in China breaks. I get that it's origin is French. This also explains why France loses every war. The invading force may have 37 sheep and 407 goats. How do we mount a proper defense?

84. Waqas W says:

Can you say 'This problem is not Chinese, but rather French' maybe like 5 more times, maybe that'll help us get off.

85. Gulab chand Dudani says:

There's no captain on board
As there're only sheeps and goats on the board.

86. demas moha says:

When I was a kid, this question was presented as a riddle with a slight twist. The riddle: "You are the captain of a ship that is transporting 12 goats, 20 sheep and 18 head of cattle. How old is the captain of the ship?". Correct answer: age of the listener. But when you're a second grader, you miss the part about who is captain..

The question is why is the captain?

88. King Benjamin says:

The real answer is, the world has become what it is today because 2nd and third graders were learning 40 years ago that they could manipulate data to solve problems and that way of reasoning is encouraged nowadays

89. keshav kumar says:

If it was an IQ based subject then they answer is valid, but in a subject of mathematics, ….. Hehe what to say….. people are mad.

90. Matej Vuletić says:

The reason why students give a simple answer and do not think critically is fault of educating system
They are basically not enjoying their time in school and learned to solve tasks by luck or the simplest possible way just to finish off their obligations
The reason why they give that type of answer is purely psychological, nothing fancy here

91. Quærere says:

At least old enough to get license for being a ship captain. Not really mathematical question, just a misleading riddle

92. steven cassiliano says:

the real story dating back to French researchers in 1979 said boat?? a boat has no captain but it does have a skipper. a captain is a high grade licensed mariner who holds ultimate command and responsibility of a merchant vessel.. a boat fits on a ship a ship doesnt fit on a boat.. there are many differences between a ship and a boat….

93. Nellvin Cervantes says:

We kill 500 million murderers/criminals to reduce our population. Determine the dimensions of Hell where they will reside.

94. Subramanian Chenniappan says:

Bs question. Not enough info is not the answer

95. Shubham Johri says:

I sense undertones of West World self-serving bias

96. Achamyeleh Kassie says:

u must be french….kkkk

97. Juan José MArtinez B. says:

The test: how much is 2+3?

Me: There's not enough information!

98. Dirk Garza says:

This isn't critical thinking it's a waste of time.

99. Lucas P says:

But if the question was asked 40 years ago, and at that time the captain was thought of being 36 years old, by now the captain must be 76 years old