Your friend pulls out a perfectly circular table and a sack of quarters, and proposes a game.
"We'll take turns putting a quarter on the table," he says. "Each quarter must lay flat on the table, and cannot sit on top of any other quarters. The last person to successfully put a quarter on the table wins."
He gives you the choice to go first or second. What should you do, and what should your strategy be to win?
You should go first, and put a quarter at the exact center of the table.
Then, each time your opponent places a quarter down, you should place your next quarter in the symmetric position on the opposite side of the table.
This will ensure that you always have a place to set down our quarter, and eventually your oppponent will run out of space.
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.
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.
Two soldiers, William and Ethan, are assigned to guard a bridge, which connects the West and East sides of the Great Kingdom. Each soldier is ordered to stand at an end of the bridge to make sure no criminals cross.
On one side of the bridge stands William, watching over the West side of the kingdom, and making sure no shady characters try to cross the bridge.
Ethan stands on the other side of the bridge, facing the East side of the kingdom with his rifle at the ready in case any criminals try to pass across.
"Any criminals today?" William asks.
Ethan rolls his eyes. "What do you think?" he asks.
"You roll your eyes too much," William says.
How could William tell that Ethan was rolling his eyes?
William is on the east side of the bridge, facing the West side of the kingdom, while Ethan is on the west side of the bridge, facing the East side of the kingdom. So William and Ethan are facing each other, and can see each other's faces.
You die and the devil says he'll let you go to heaven if you beat him in a game. The devil sits you down at a perfectly round table. He gives himself and you an infinite pile of quarters. He says, "OK, we'll take turns putting one quarter down, no overlapping allowed, and the quarters must rest flat on the table surface. The first guy who can't put a quarter down loses." You guys are about to start playing, and the devil says that he'll go first. However, at this point you immediately interject, and ask if you can go first instead. You make this interjection because you are very smart and can place quarters perfectly, and you know that if you go first, you can guarantee victory. Explain how you can guarantee victory.
You place a quarter right in the center of the table. After that, whenever the devil places a quarter on the table, mimic his placement on the opposite side of the table.. If he has a place to place a quarter, so will you. The devil will run out of places to put a quarter before you do.
Two trains are traveling toward each other on the same track, each at 60 miles per hour. When they are exactly 120 miles apart, a fly takes off from the front of one of the trains, flying toward the other train at a constant rate of 100 miles per hour. When the fly reaches the other train, it instantly changes directions and starts flying toward the other train, still at 100 miles per hour. It keeps doing this back and forth until the trains finally collide.
If you add up all the distances back and forth that the fly has travelled, how much total distance has the fly travelled when the trains finally collide?
The fly has travelled exactly 100 miles. We can figure this out using some simple math. Becuase the trains are 120 miles apart when the fly takes off, and are travelling at 60 mph each, they will collide in exactly 1 hour. This gives the fly exactly 1 hour of flying time, going at a speed of 100 miles per hour. Thus, the fly will travel 100 miles in this hour.