Tommy’s Drive to Work

May 21, 2011

RAY: This is from Tommy's New Ride Series and it was sent in by Scott Murphy, although I did monkey around with it a little bit, as you would expect. Pay attention.
Some of our listeners may not know this, even though it's been all over every media outlet imaginable, but Tommy has a new car.

TOM: Yeah!

RAY: Well, not exactly new, it's 19 years old. But it's new enough to have lots of things that his other car didn't have. It has heat, lights, and windshield wipers. It also has one of those newfangled six-digit odometers. It can register as many as 999,999 miles.

So one fine morning last week, Tommy gets into his new car to drive to work. He fires up his engine and before pulling out of the driveway, he notices something interesting. His odometer reading is a palindrome. Do you know what a palindrome is?

TOM: No.

RAY: It's a number that reads the same forwards as it does backwards. For example, if his odometer read 175,571 miles, that's a palindrome number. 1 - 7 - 5, 5 - 7 -1, reads the same forward and backwards. 'Well, that's cool,' he says to himself, and off he goes.

Naturally, he's in no hurry to get to work, so he stops at his favorite cafe and gets his usual quadruple espresso macchiato, and about an hour later, he shows up at Car Talk Plaza. Just as he pulls into his 'Reserved for the Big Cheese' parking spot, he notices that his odometer reading again is a palindrome. And no, the odometer is not broken, but it is indeed a palindrome number once again.

So he's gotten in the morning, seen a number, driven some number of miles - not many, cause he only drove for an hour,--not even, most of the time he was drinking coffee -- and his new odometer reading is again a palindromic number.

Here's the question: How far did he drive that morning?
RAY: Here's the answer. Let's look at the initial example I gave, 175,571 miles. The next closest palindromic odometer reading would be 176,671, which is 1100 miles away.

TOM: Right.

RAY: Now I know Tommy might drive 1100 miles to get away from work, but he would never drive 1100 miles to get to work. And besides he had less than an hour to do this. And let's not forget his cafe stop.

So let's say his odometer reading was like 199,991. Now 11 miles later it reads 200,002. So he's driven 11 miles.

Of course, there's one absurd answer, which is that his odometer read 999,999 miles. He drove a mile and it went to all zeros. And both of those are palindromes.

Now my brother's driven some heaps in his day, but even he wouldn't drive anything with that many miles on it. So the answer we're going with and the non-absurd answer is 11 miles.

TOM: Pretty cute.

RAY: Do we have a winner?

TOM: The winner is David Crump from Penn Hills, Pennsylvania. And for having his correct answer selected at random from among all the correct answers that we got, David will get a $26 gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division at

With which he can get a copy of our father's CD, Why You Should Never Listen to Your Father When It Comes to Cars, which is a perfect father's day gift, by the way, provided your father has already cut you out of the will. Or there's no will.

Congratulations, David, baby!

Get the Car Talk Newsletter