The Gift of the Magi
Date: 09/08/2002 at 12:22:36 From: Cassie Subject: Gift of Magi What mathematical error can be found in the first paragraph of O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"?
Date: 09/08/2002 at 21:25:59 From: Doctor Ian Subject: Re: Gift of Magi Hi Cassie, Here is the paragraph: One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas. Now, presumably, the 'error' you're supposed to find is that if you take 60 pennies away from $1.87, you're left with $1.27, which is a sum you can only get if you have some pennies. However, the story doesn't say that _only_ 60 cents of it was in pennies. For example, suppose she had nothing but pennies. It would _still_ be true that 60 cents of it was in pennies. And even if you object to this kind of word-squeezing, note that the story was written in 1906, and it doesn't say when it takes place. The U.S. was minting three-cent coints in silver until 1873, and in cupronickel as late as 1889. So she could have had a silver dollar, 9 three-cent pieces, and 60 pennies. That would add up to $1.87. And two-cent coins were struck from 1864 to 1873; their use would also address the supposed conundrum of "60 cents in pennies." So maybe the paragraph contains an error... and maybe it doesn't. I hope this helps! - Doctor Ian, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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