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Smarter Than A Second Grader: Elementary Schools Problems That’ll Stump Adults Too

Any adult who spends time with kids in elementary school can tell you that things have changed. Grade school is the height of confusion. Where we just used to wonder why our teachers made us risk life and limb to play dodgeball, today’s kids have to deal with impossible math questions that could reduce a grown-up to tears.

Losing Your Marbles

Janell had 15 marbles. She lost some of them. How many does Janell have now?

That’s it. That’s a math question for a 3rd grader. Are they teaching elementary students about imaginary numbers now? That’s about the only way this word problem works. Janell needs to learn to count—that’s what Janell needs to do. There’s no way to solve this without knowing how many marbles the poor kid lost in the first place. Know what will make you lose your marbles? The next question!


Beethoven’s Trick Question

An orchestra of 120 players takes 40 minutes to play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. How long would it take for 60 players to play the symphony?

Let P be the number of players and T the time playing.

Here’s a trick question that’s likely to stump anyone who isn’t a band nerd. Yours truly is a band nerd and thus realizes that it will take the same amount of time for 60 musicians to get through Beethoven’s 9th, but not everybody’s familiar with the rules of music. Math students rightfully assume that you solve this using inverse proportions, which is smart but sadly doesn’t provide the correct answer.

Manuel Nägeli/Unsplash

Word Scramble Jam

It’s John’s birthday today.
o t c n c r e
He is e _ _ _ _ _ _  about his birthday party later.

A typo just ruined John’s birthday. Teachers aren’t infallible, but you expect them to proofread worksheets, quizzes, and tests before handing out the assignments to students. How can a kid hope to get the right answer if the teacher mucks it up first? For the record, John is supposed to be excited about his birthday. Did you come up with any actual words for this?

Rahel Daniel/Unsplash

Lily Pad Problems

In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half the lake?

Most adults rush to do quick math to solve this word problem, which results in an answer of 24. Most kids do the same thing because taking half of 48 makes sense. The correct answer lies a bit deeper than that. Every day, the lily pad patch doubles. To cover the whole lake on day 48, the lily pads must have covered half the pond on day 47, then they doubled.

Maddy Baker/Unsplash

Train Of Fools

There were some people on a train. 19 people get off the train at the first stop. 17 people get on the train. Now there are 63 people on the train. How many people were on the train to begin with?

This question isn’t impossible, but it requires a bit more reading comprehension than you usually expect from kids in the second grade. The answer, of course, is 65, but since the question is written in the most bass-ackwards way possible, solving the problem is tricky. Some adults have to work at it to figure out the answer.

Have you ever been stumped by grade school math? You can share. We won’t tell.

Mike Kotsch/Unsplash

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