Stories and Traveltips

ID #1253

Trevor Long’s Trick Question, Graeme College, Grahamstown, Eastern Cape.

Trevor Long had a distinguished teaching career, ending up as headmaster of Victoria Girls High School (VG) in Grahamstown – one of few men to do so. But in the mid 60’s he was the Grade 9 mathematics teacher at Graeme College.  I eventually became competent at maths but, at the time, was too careless to do well – something that exasperated Trevor. Yet I remained interested in the subject and was usually one step ahead of the class.

One evening I was struggling with an example in a chapter we were to cover in class the following day. I remember the example clearly: If the sum of the digits is X and the product of the digits is Y, what is the number?  I pondered over the problem but was unable to make much headway. I asked the master of the prep room as well as several of the matrics, all to no avail. Eventually, just before the prep room closed for the night, I figured it out.  Eureka! – I had the answer and, contented, went off to bed.

The following day Trevor walked into the classroom, held up a 10 cent coin and said: “I will give this coin to anyone able to solve this problem in 5 minutes”.  From the way he asked the question I realized that he had been asking the selfsame for several years. Clearly he doubted that our class would be any different.

He wrote the problem down on the board and, to my surprise, it was the problem I had been wrestling with the previous evening. I remembered the details and scribbled them onto a piece of paper in a few seconds. Then I stood up and handed it to Mr. Long, who looked skeptical as I did so.

His eyes widened with surprise, he beamed and handed me the coin. Years afterwards, on the last day of school, we were asked to stand up in class and tell him what we intended doing after school. When my turn came about I stood up and said I was going to the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) to study chemical engineering – a notoriously difficult course. His eyes became misty and he shook his head. I never did tell him how I managed to solve his trick question.

Grahamstown is on the N2 west of East London, which is at the intersection of the N2 with the N6 Alan McIver NFTrevor

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Last update: 2014-05-14 14:05
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.5

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