St Ives

A Maths Starter Of The Day


As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
Every wife had seven sacks
Every sack had seven cats
Every cat had seven kittens
Kittens, cats, sacks, wives
How many were going to St Ives?


Topics: Starter | Riddles

  • Bethany Watkinson, Queen Elizabeths Highschool
  • I thought this was a very hard starter but it would get children's minds into gear in the morning !
  • Roger Waters, Heath Technology College, Runcorn
  • I found this really useful in high school, because it made the children think as well as using basic computational skills. I was told about this web site by my daughter, who is doing her primary teacher training!
  • Ks3 Student, Tabor Science College
  • This was a really good problem to do in the morning as it made you think!!!
  • MAK, NZ
  • An old 'chestnut!....But maybe the activity could be extended and used with older students to talk about powers of 7?
  • Y5 Set 1, Martham Primary Sc Hool
  • Whole class was tricked!! But we got there in the end by acting out the situation.
  • Y7 Set 1, Welshpool High School
  • A lovely starter, class got 1 straight away, however there was some debate over whether or not the answer was 0 as the second from last line mentions all the characters apart from the person travelling to St Ives - so weren't sure if we should include him or not :-).
  • Adrian,
  • This one puzzle can have 2 different answers. It doesn't say that the man and his wives is traveling away from St Ive or towards.
  • Lauren, Gloucester
  • My children in class didn't understand this starter at first but after I had shown them the actual answer there was only one person who got it correct.
  • Transum,
  • The answer to the riddle in this Starter is obtained with a little artistic licence and is not the frequently calculated figure of 2801. The correct answer appears (for teachers who have a Transum subscription) below. A similar question (though not a riddle) appeared in the Rhind papyrus dating back to 1650 BC. This version of the question is about 7 houses, each with 7 cats, each with 7 mice, each with 7 spelt, each with 7 hekat (what the hekat is a spelt and is that how hekat is spelt?). The answer to that is 19607. The question in the Rhind papyrus is included in Fibonacci's Liber Abaci first published in 1202.
  • Hannah, Rhs
  • Class says 1 No one knows if the man is going to IVES let alone the wives.
  • Ms. KP, Hamilton International Middle School, Seattle, WA
  • My class got the final answer as 2,800. We counted wives 7, sacks 49, cats 343, kittens 2,401. Then we added all of these together to get 2,800.

    [Transum: Well done Ms KP and your class at Hamilton but despite your accurate arithmetic that is not the classic answer to this riddle.]
  • Anna Cheyne, Borrowfield
  • My Primary Five class, mostly aged 10, came up with 2802 as we included the man and the original person heading to St Ives. We love doing the Starter of the Day and I am very proud of how my class are improving in their confidence and ability! Thank you Transum, from Mrs C & P5.
  • Mrs B, CCSY6
  • We think we know the real answer but we did have a very good maths discussion! The answer we suspect is really more about Geography!

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This starter has scored a mean of 3.4 out of 5 based on 471 votes.

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"As I was going to St Ives" is a traditional nursery rhyme which is generally thought to be a riddle. The earliest known published version of it dates to around 1730. The answer to the riddle is usually said to be one: the person reciting the rhyme is the only one who is explicitly stated as going to St Ives, and everyone else met by them assumed to be travelling the opposite direction. [Wikipedia]

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