I’m apparently in that part of the human race that doesn’t ‘get’ the following paragraph. If you are in the other part, please a) wipe that smirk off your face, b) explain what I’m missing (ideally, preceded by a hint). Thanks!

The old church. Old lady: ‘We have a very old church here, 1913.’ ‘Oh, auntie dear, you mean 1319.’ ‘Not at all, my dear, 1325.’ (This sharply divides the human race.)

Context & credits: The quote above is from the chapter ODDS AND ENDS of the book “Littlewood’s Miscellany,” by John Littlewood and Bela Bollobas. That particular chapter is a collection of brief self-contained anecdotes, observations, puzzles, and random other stuff. Littlewood does not explicitly state that this particular item is a puzzle, but I think that's a safe bet; at any rate, it puzzles me!

I should add that, while Littlewood was an eminent British early 20th century mathematician. Most of the Miscellany, including the chapter from which this quote was taken, is directed at the intelligent layperson.

  • $\begingroup$ It might be important, that -- according to the authors -- this was a chestnut in 1913, quite unknown in 1930, and unknown in 1956, see preceding comment in text. $\endgroup$
    – Matsmath
    Sep 16 '16 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ I never thought that was a puzzle, just a joke. The humour lies in the fact that it doesn't actually make any sense for someone to turn 1325 into 1913 by first getting six years out and then muddling up the first and second halves of the date (i.e., in the very thing that makes it baffling if you think of it as anything other than a date). $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Sep 16 '16 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know if it helps at all, but I find it funnier if I imagine it actually being told (perhaps by a stand-up comedian), slightly silly voice for the dear auntie and all. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Sep 16 '16 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ Gareth & Deusovi, thanks. Something along the lines you suggest is certainly possible, but to me this seems out of character in the context of the items in that chapter. When Littlewood makes the reader think at all, there is usually an unambiguous "aha" moment waiting at the end of the cogitative rainbow. I don't feel that here. [And Gareth I somehow read "joke" as date, perhaps because unlike you I wasn't thinking ahead to the evening:-] $\endgroup$
    – user34099
    Sep 16 '16 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder by what number of years the old ladies reduce their real age ;) $\endgroup$
    – kamenf
    Sep 16 '16 at 23:34

This doesn't seem to be a puzzle, but instead a joke (although not a very funny one).

Originally, it seems like the old lady had simply transposed the digits, so her niece/nephew attempted to correct her on the year. But then she knew the correct date, so you wonder how she even got from "1325" to "1913" in the first place - it's not an easy mistake to make.

  • $\begingroup$ What about the meaning of "this sharply divides the human race"? Is the human race sharply divided into those who find the joke funny and those who don't? :) $\endgroup$
    – Erick Wong
    Sep 16 '16 at 23:46
  • $\begingroup$ @ErickWong, I think that's exactly Littlewood's meaning. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Sep 17 '16 at 1:49
  • $\begingroup$ The best I can make of it is that the old lady knew that the date was 1325; she recalled the "13", but then, in expanding this to a full year number she mistakenly took that 13 to be '13, i.e. 1913, just as we might, these days, equate '13 with 2013. $\endgroup$
    – Rosie F
    Sep 17 '16 at 6:38

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