Marty and Jill want to copy three 60 minute tapes. They have two tape recorders that will dub the tapes for them, so they can do two at a time. It takes 30 minutes for each side to complete; therefore in one hour two tapes will be done, and in another hour the third will be done. Jill says all three tapes can be made in 90 minutes. How?
Jill will rotate the three tapes. Let's call them tapes 1,2, and 3 with sides A and B. In the first 30 minutes they will tape 1A and 2A, in the second 3 minutes they will tape 1B and 3A (Tape 1 is now done). Finally, in the last 30 minutes, they will tape 2B and 3B.
Four people need to cross a rickety bridge at night. Unfortunately, they have only one torch and the bridge is too dangerous to cross without one. The bridge is only strong enough to support two people at a time. Not all people take the same time to cross the bridge. Times for each person: 1 min, 2 mins, 7 mins and 10 mins. What is the shortest time needed for all four of them to cross the bridge?
It is 17 mins.
1 and 2 go first, then 1 comes back. Then 7 and 10 go and 2 comes back. Then 1 and 2 go again, it makes a total of 17 minutes.
You have two lengths of rope. Each rope has the property that if you light it on fire at one end, it will take exactly 60 minutes to burn to the other end. Note that the ropes will not burn at a consistent speed the entire time (for example, it's possible that the first 90% of a rope will burn in 1 minute, and the last 10% will take the additional 59 minutes to burn).
Given these two ropes and a matchbook, can you find a way to measure out exactly 45 minutes?
The key observation here is that if you light a rope from both ends at the same time, it will burn in 1/2 the time it would have burned in if you had lit it on just one end.
Using this insight, you would light both ends of one rope, and one end of the other rope, all at the same time. The rope you lit at both ends will finish burning in 30 minutes. Once this happens, light the second end of the second rope. It will burn for another 15 minutes (since it would have burned for 30 more minutes without lighting the second end), completing the 45 minutes.