Singapore high school math problem stumps the Internet

Agence France-Presse
A math problem that first appeared in a test for Singapore's elite high school students baffles Internet users around the world after it goes viral

VIRAL DILEMMA. The photo of the Singapore math problem that went viral in social media over the weekend. Image courtesy Kenneth Kong/Facebook

SINGAPORE – A math problem that first appeared in a test for Singapore’s elite high school students has baffled Internet users around the world after it went viral, prompting a rush of attempts to solve it.

The question, involving a girl asking two boys to guess her birthday after giving them scant clues, first appeared in an April 8 test organized by the Singapore and Asian Schools Math Olympiad (SASMO). 

It was meant for 15- and 16-year-old elite secondary school students, but swiftly went global after a local television news presenter posted it on his Facebook page Saturday, April 11.

In the question, Cheryl gives her new friends Albert and Bernard 10 possible dates when they enquired about her birthday, before separately giving each of them further clues.

Test-takers are then asked to use logic to deduce Cheryl’s birthday using a short conversation between the two boys about the information given to them.

By Monday, April 13, Internet users around the world were posting meticulously detailed answers to the puzzle on social media networks such as Facebook and Reddit, only to prompt a slew of comments disputing their findings and methodology.

Others posted sardonic comments about “coy Cheryl”.

“Cheryl obviously didn’t want Albert and Bernard at her party. Should have taken the hint when Cheryl decided to play this little game,” wrote David Leong on Facebook. 

The “mind-boggling” problem also made the mainstream media, with leading websites including the Guardian newspaper and Buzzfeed publishing articles about the puzzle. 

In a Facebook post late Monday, SASMO provided the full question and a model answer.

To whom it may concern,We would appreciate if you could post this reply to clarify the “supposedly P5 viral question”…

Posted by Singapore and Asian School Math Olympiads on Monday, April 13, 2015

The post also clarified earlier reports that the question was posed to primary schoolchildren, saying SASMO thought it important to specify the age of the students involved so “Singapore parents will not start to worry so much”. 

The question was “actually from the secondary 3 and secondary 4 SASMO contests held on April 8, 2015”, it said, adding it was “meant to sift out the better students”.

Singapore is renowned worldwide for its national maths system, which has been emulated by schools in other developed countries and cities, including New York. – Rappler.com