In classic mythology, there is the story of the Sphinx, a monster with the body of a lion and the upper part of a woman.
The Sphinx lay crouched on the top of a rock along the highroad to the city of Thebes, and stopped all travellers passing by, proposing to them a riddle.
Those who failed to answer the riddle correctly were killed.
This is the riddle the Sphinx asked the travellers: "What animal walks on four legs in the morning, two legs during the day, and three legs in the evening?"
This is part of the story of Oedipus, who replied to the Sphinx, "Man, who in childhood creeps on hands and knees, in manhood walks erect, and in old age with the aid of a staff."
Morning, day and night are representative of the stages of life.
The Sphinx was so mortified at the solving of her riddle that she cast herself down from the rock and perished.
Three ants are sitting at the three corners of an equilateral triangle. Each ant starts randomly picks a direction and starts to move along the edge of the triangle. What is the probability that none of the ants collide?
So let’s think this through. The ants can only avoid a collision if they all decide to move in the same direction (either clockwise or anti-clockwise). If the ants do not pick the same direction, there will definitely be a collision. Each ant has the option to either move clockwise or anti-clockwise. There is a one in two chance that an ant decides to pick a particular direction. Using simple probability calculations, we can determine the probability of no collision.
P(No collision) = P(All ants go in a clockwise direction) + P( All ants go in an anti-clockwise direction) = 0.5 * 0.5 * 0.5 + 0.5 * 0.5 * 0.5 = 0.25
Pirate Pete had been captured by a Spanish general and sentenced to death by his 50-man firing squad. Pete cringed, as he knew their reputation for being the worst firing squad in the Spanish military. They were such bad shots that they would often all miss their targets and simply maim their victims, leaving them to bleed to death, as the general's tradition was to only allow one shot per man to save on ammunition. The thought of a slow painful death made Pete beg for mercy.
"Very well, I have some compassion. You may choose where the men stand when they shoot you and I will add 50 extra men to the squad to ensure someone will at least hit you. Perhaps if they stand closer they will kill you quicker, if you're lucky," snickered the general. "Oh, and just so you don't get any funny ideas, they can't stand more than 20 ft away, they must be facing you, and you must remain tied to the post in the middle of the yard. And to show I'm not totally heartless, if you aren't dead by sundown I'll release you so you can die peacefully outside the compound. I must go now but will return tomorrow and see to it that you are buried in a nice spot, though with 100 men, I doubt there will be much left of you to bury."
After giving his instructions the general left. Upon his return the next day, he found that Pete had been set free alive and well. "How could this be?" demanded the general. "It was where Pete had us stand," explained the captain of the squad.
Where did Pete tell them to stand?
Pete told them to form a circle around him. All the squad was facing in at Pete, ready to shoot, when they realized that everyone who missed would likely end up shooting another squad member. So no one dared to fire, knowing the risk. Thus at sundown he was released.
One morning an airline president is leaving on a business trip and finds he left some paperwork at his office. He runs into his office to get it and the night watchman stops him and says, "Sir, don't get on the plane. I had a dream last night that the plane would crash and everyone would die!"
The man takes his word and cancels his trip. Sure enough, the plane crashes and everyone dies. The next morning the man gives the watchman a $1,000 reward for saving his life and then fires him.
Why did he fire the watchman that saved his life?
There are 1 million closed school lockers in a row, labeled 1 through 1,000,000.
You first go through and flip every locker open.
Then you go through and flip every other locker (locker 2, 4, 6, etc...). When you're done, all the even-numbered lockers are closed.
You then go through and flip every third locker (3, 6, 9, etc...). "Flipping" mean you open it if it's closed, and close it if it's open. For example, as you go through this time, you close locker 3 (because it was still open after the previous run through), but you open locker 6, since you had closed it in the previous run through.
Then you go through and flip every fourth locker (4, 8, 12, etc...), then every fifth locker (5, 10, 15, etc...), then every sixth locker (6, 12, 18, etc...) and so on. At the end, you're going through and flipping every 999,998th locker (which is just locker 999,998), then every 999,999th locker (which is just locker 999,999), and finally, every 1,000,000th locker (which is just locker 1,000,000).
At the end of this, is locker 1,000,000 open or closed?
Locker 1,000,000 will be open.
If you think about it, the number of times that each locker is flipped is equal to the number of factors it has. For example, locker 12 has factors 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12, and will thus be flipped 6 times (it will end be flipped when you flip every one, every 2nd, every 3rd, every 4th, every 6th, and every 12th locker). It will end up closed, since flipping an even number of times will return it to its starting position. You can see that if a locker number has an even number of factors, it will end up closed. If it has an odd number of factors, it will end up open.
As it turns out, the only types of numbers that have an odd number of factors are squares. This is because factors come in pairs, and for squares, one of those pairs is the square root, which is duplicated and thus doesn't count twice as a factor. For example, 12's factors are 1 x 12, 2 x 6, and 3 x 4 (6 total factors). On the other hand, 16's factors are 1 x 16, 2 x 8, and 4 x 4 (5 total factors).
So lockers 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, etc... will all be open. Since 1,000,000 is a square number (1000 x 1000), it will be open as well.