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The Family Jewels?

The Puzzler


RAY: Well here it is. Here it is. A struggling art history major waitress is working in New York City and it is around Christmas time and she finds herself in difficult straits. After all she's traveled home for Christmas and spent a lot of money and bought Christmas presents and the like, and she returns to her little apartment and her little room in the rooming house and realizes that she cannot pay the rent. So she approaches the landlord with the following, what would you call it, offer. She says, "Look. I don't have the money to pay you the month of January's rent." She said, "But I can give you a link of my gold necklace per day. Everyday I'll give you one link to pay for the rent." And as luck would have it there are 31 days in January and her gold necklace has 31 links.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: You've got it.

TOM: Sure.

RAY: Now obviously he says, "Let me look at the thing." So he looks at it and verifies that it is authentic 18 carat gold, and he says you've got a deal. At the end of the month, I give you the necklace back, you give me the dough. Right.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: Now obviously she could cut the thing into 31 pieces and every day, give him a piece, but then she'd have to have it repaired by a jeweler for an inordinate amount of money. So she wants to make as few cuts as possible. So what she's going to do is for example, day one she is going to cut one link. OK. She's going to hand him one link. Now she could cut another link off and hand him two for the next day.

TOM: Or she could just cut off two and give him the two and take one back.

RAY: There you go. And then for the third day, she gives him the previous one that she'd cut off.

TOM: She wouldn't have to cut anything.

RAY: So the question is how many pieces does she have to cut the chain into to be able to pay for all 31 days? How many pieces? So the chain is going to be -- now obviously when she makes the cut, she's going to close it back up again, you know. In other words, when she cuts that first link, she's actually cut link number two to extract that first piece. So that she doesn't lose it, she closes that back up again. Get the scenario.

TOM: I got it. Yeah. Yeah.

RAY: And then she's going to cut a two-link piece off and that's going to pay for day -

TOM: Sure. Sure.

RAY: Right now I've got it figured out for you - days one, two and three all figured out.

TOM: She did it with only two cuts instead of three cuts which would be the obvious straight-forward way to do it.

RAY: Right. Just cut a link at a time off.

TOM: Right.

RAY: So there's an economical way to do this. And the question is what are the lengths of the pieces that she has to cut the --

TOM: The fewest number of --

RAY: Obviously. The fewest number of pieces. And what are those various lengths. Now the hint is. The hint is that 20 years ago people would have had a much harder time solving this puzzle than they would today.

TOM: Excellent hint.

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[ Car Talk Puzzler ]

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