As I was going 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, and wives,
How many were going to St. Ives?

nursery rhyme

The answer lies below...These answers are presented in order of increasing accuracy, assuming the most literal interpretation.

  1. One wrong answer is that there are 2,401 (74)kits, cats, sacks, and wives going to St. Ives. This is inaccurate any way you slice it, as there are actually 2,401 kits, 343 cats, 49 sacks, and 7 wives, which brings me to the next answer:
  2. 2800 (74 + 73 + 72 + 7). This is arithmetically correct, but note that these kits, cats, sacks, and wives are not "going to St. Ives".
  3. The answer commonly arrived at after thinking about the problem is 1. Just you. "As I was going to St. Ives..." begins the rhyme. This is the generally accepted answer.
  4. Yet, solution 3 answers the question "...How many were going to St. Ives?", but that is not the question. It reads, "Kits, cats, sacks, and wives, how many were going to St. Ives?" The answer to that question is zero. There are no kits, cats, sacks, nor wives going to St. Ives. The only thing going to St. Ives is you, and You are not a kit, cat, nor sack. If you are a wife, go back to #3, and then go tell your husband you love him.

In response to cahla, below:

Maybe you should read my reasoning before you scoff at my answer. The riddle asks how many kits, cats, sacks, or wives are going to St. Ives. You are none of those.
If I said to you, "Die Hard movies, how many do you own?" (sure it is a bit odd in the wording, but it is poetic), would you answer with, "Well I own Clueless, so I guess that's one"? No, cause I didn't bloody ask about Clueless, just as the originator of the riddle didn't ask about you.

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives.
Of course, the seven wives weren't his,
but here in France, that's how it is.

Actually, this little rhyme is a Guinness World Record. It is the oldest mathematical puzzle being 3650 years old. The riddle was found on the Rhind Papyrus which was dated to be from about 1650 BC. The fact that the scribe Ahmes (no, not the department store, Sirius) probably used hieroglyphics to document his riddle suggests that the words have been altered slightly in translation, though the riddle remains the same. And the answer, one, is not the generally accepted answer, it is the answer. The answer is actually on the scroll, but regardless, think about it... the riddle does go, “As I was going to St. Ives…”. Well, duh, I equates to one.

This rhyme is also referenced in the third, and best, Die Hard movie, Die Hard With a Vengeance. If Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t so damn clever, NY might have gone boom.

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