Inspired by a recent trip to Greensboro, North Carolina --- birthplace of O. Henry --- I offer the following challenge.
Which famous short story of O. Henry contains a mathematical error in the very first paragraph, and what is the error?
To make it easier, I'll point to an archive of O. Henry stories here.
Monday, July 17, 2006
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Oo! Oo! Me first! Gift of the Magi, very first two sentences. You can't have $1.87 if only sixty cents is in pennies.
Woo! English degree finally useful!
O. Henry's most famous short story is The Gift of the Magi. In the very first paragraph, we learn that Della has saved one dollar and eighty-seven cents, sixty cents of it being in pennies. This leaves one dollar and twenty-seven cents, none of it in pennies, which is impossible. As far as I know, the U.S. has never issued a twopence coin.
Actually, there was a 2-cent coin in the US, first issued in 1864, and minted until 1873. But they were likely out of common circulation by the time O. Henry wrote The Gift of the Magi in 1900 or so.
Out of common circulation? Look at the coins in your pocket. I've got one from 26 years ago, out of the 8 in my pocket. That's not quite as long ago as 1873 was from 1900 but it's pretty close.
It's common to have coins in circulation that are 40 or more years old. However, when a coin gets discontinued, then it generally falls out of circulation fairly quickly, because people hoard the remaining ones as souvenirs and because merchants become unfamiliar with them and may refuse to accept them. Have you tried spending a Susan B. Anthony dollar recently?
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