Math with a Moral

 Posted by at 7:06 am
Mar 112014

Here’s a little math problem I sometimes give my students that doesn’t relate to real estate. I’ve included the answer, but not the explanation. (I usually offer students a sticker if they can explain why the answer works!)

A farmer died leaving his 17 horses to his 3 sons.

When his sons opened up the will it read:

  • My eldest son should get 1/2 (half) of total horses;
  • My middle son should be given 1/3rd (one-third) of the total horses;
  • My youngest son should be given 1/9th (one-ninth) of the total horses.

As it’s impossible to divide 17 into half or 17 by 3 or 17 by 9, the three sons started to fight with each other.

So, they decided to go to a farmer friend who they considered quite smart, to see if he could work it out for them.


The farmer friend read the will patiently and, after giving due thought, he brought one of his own horses over and added it to the 17. That increased the total to 18 horses. 

Then he divided the horses according to their father’s will.

  • Half of 18 = 9. So he gave the eldest son 9 horses.
  • 1/3rd of 18 = 6. So he gave the middle son 6 horses.
  • 1/9th of 18 = 2. So he gave the youngest son 2 horses.

Now add up how many horses they have: The eldest son received 9 horses, the middle son 6 and the youngest son 2 for a total of 17. There is one horse left over, so the farmer friend takes his horse back to his farm. Problem Solved!

This is also a math problem with a moral:

The attitude of negotiation and problem solving is to find the 18th horse–the common ground. Before you can reach a solution, you must believe that there is a solution. If you think that there is no solution, you will probably be right!