Viral Math Question Divides The Internet, Even Leaves The Calculators Confused

By Samantha in Puzzle On 22nd June 2021

A very simple and yet complex math problem has left the internet scratching their heads and has left the calculators in a stump too.

This viral math problem was tweeted for the first time back in 2019, with the request for “one of my mutual friends solve this.”

However, more and more people are determined to solve it. 

Though it appears to be a very simple question, it is the solving part that has left Twitter banging heads. 

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It is no rocket science here that math questions are solved in order according to PEMDAS, the acronym of which stands for Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction.

In schools around the world, children are taught to remember this with the phrase Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.

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However, all the maths rules are left in a muddle here as the internet struggle to find the real answer to the question. It’s either 1 or 16, according to most replies - but those are very different numbers.

“I do parenthesis, multiplication, then division so i believe it’s 1,” wrote the original tweeter. “See so apparently division comes first......this is why I didn’t do well in math okay.”

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“With my degrees I would say you were correct but there’s something you’re missing,” wrote one mathematician in 2020. “The ‘P.’ Parentheses are done first, including the multiplication of numbers attached. The way you did is also correct with current mathematics being taught incorrectly for years. #AmericanSchools”

“I have 2 math degrees,” another user replied. “It’s 1.”

Whether or not the answer is in fact 1, however, got so heated with the original tweet that the New York Times asked Cornell professor Steven Strogatz to tackle it.

“Deal with whatever is in parentheses first. Of course, 2+2 = 4. So the question boils down to 8÷2×4,” Strogatz wrote in 2019. “And there’s the rub.”

“Now that we’re faced with a division and a multiplication, which one takes priority?” the Times asked. “If we carry out the division first, we get 4×4 = 16; if we carry out the multiplication first, we get 8÷8 = 1.”

Strogatz, who previously complained on Twitter that order of operations never actually came up, had no real conclusion.