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The Internet Can’t Agree On This Viral Equation — Can You Solve It?

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The Internet is full of all forms of entertainment but this time the entertainment is coming from a very unlikely source: math. Strangely enough, millions who probably hated math in school are finally “showing their work” to prove how they solved a viral (tweeted by @pjmdoll) math equation:  8÷2(2+2) =?. Some believe the answer is 1 and others think it’s 16. How can the answers to the same equation be so far apart? Let’s figure it out!

PEMDAS And BODMAS

The responses to the equation were hilarious! People on both sides of the viral argument though those on the other side were absolutely ludicrous. @JungKookQueen97 said, “the amount of people saying 16 need to retake math.” Another user, @corynhendrix, said, “took 3 calc classes, differential equations, and linear algebra, it’s 16 bro.” One user, @celestiallight_ added another layer of mystery to the argument by showing that two scientific calculators come up with two different solutions for the same equations.

It’s not hard to see why this equation went viral. We’d all like to think we know basic math, but this problem has been a real mind-bender. It has also highlighted the subtle differences between English in different countries. Many are citing the order of operations in their solutions to the equation. North American English speakers call it PEMDAS, but English speakers from almost everywhere else call is BODMAS.

Two Solutions, One Problem

Both people who got the answer 1 and those who found the answer to be 16 agree that it is essential to use the order of operation to solve this problem.  Here’s how about half the Internet found the answer to be one: For the purpose of not being super confusing, this article will only use PEMDAS from here on out. As a reminder, this is the original equation: 8÷2(2+2) =? By addressing parenthesis first, the equation becomes  8÷2 x 4 =?. There are no exponents in this problem, so you move on to multiplication. 2 x 4= 8, so the equation boils down to 8÷8=1

Some people using PEMDAS still arrived at the solution of 16. Here’s how. Solving for parenthesis first still simplifies the problem down to 8÷2 x 4 =? And here’s where the point of contention starts. Some people put division before multiplication. Since 8÷2=4, the equation becomes 4 x 4=16. According to this train of logic, multiplication and division are equally as important. When a problem is simplified down to only multiplication and division, the order of the problem is followed rather than the order of operations. This is certainly a higher level though that is not always discussed in every math class.

Who’s Right?

This is not the first time such an equation has gone viral. Another problem that had the same operations and could be solved into two seemingly right answers went viral back in 2011. Professors at the University of California, Berkley made a writeup to explain how people could come up with two answers for the same problem.

Although we often think of math as made of problems, it is a practical science used to solve real-world problems. In a practical sense, problems such as these rarely ever come up, so the mathematical powers that be have not made a hard and fast rule on if multiplication and division can be treated as equally important in this case. Both 1 and 16 are technically correct answers. Math can be really fun!

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