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A friend of mine presented this nifty little puzzle, he said it's from Round Britain Quiz. It goes like this:

An athletics competition, arranged periodically, rewards a medal to 79 winners, 47 runners-up, and an indeterminate number of third places. 50 cans of drink are served as refreshment. By this logic, how many policemen are needed to keep order?

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  • $\begingroup$ This question seems to fall into some kind of strange no-mans-land in our tagging system, since out of the original, suggested, and edited in tags of logical-deduction, lateral-thinking, riddle and regional-dialect, none is really a very good fit. I re-edited the tags to my best ability, but please do feel free to improve them. (I didn't originally want to use the pattern tag, since it feels a bit like a giveaway.) $\endgroup$ – Bass Jan 31 '18 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ How about the enigmatic-puzzle tag? That's often used for puzzles where the method of solution is deliberately unclear (as is the case here: it looks like a combinatorics problem at first, but turns out to be something completely different). The current tags are a slight giveaway towards the type of solution method to look for; not sure whether you actually want that or not. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Jan 31 '18 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ Good call, I’ll add that one, it’s very likely the closest match we have for ”cryptic quiz”. Since we don’t have secret tags, some tags are necessarily a bit spoileriffic, but probably not too much in this case. $\endgroup$ – Bass Jan 31 '18 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ Well, some puzzles are just tagged enigmatic-puzzle and nothing else. That's the best way to avoid spoilers completely in the tags. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Jan 31 '18 at 18:21
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The number of participants

corresponds to the place on the periodic table of elements (79 is gold, 47 is silver). This is what is referred to by "arranged periodically." The number of third places is indeterminate because bronze is not on the periodic table of elements.

The 50 cans of drink

are tin, which is 50 on the table of elements. "Tin" is a British name for cans in general.

The number of policemen

should be 29 (copper), because, as Levieux points out, a policeman is a "copper."

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    $\begingroup$ Nice find! But I think the number of policemen ("coppers") should be 29 ;) $\endgroup$ – Levieux Jan 30 '18 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, the third place receives bronze, which makes it clear why it's indeterminate with your explanation :P $\endgroup$ – Lolgast Jan 30 '18 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ You're right, that's probably the intended solution. I'll fix the answer. $\endgroup$ – b a Jan 30 '18 at 10:06
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    $\begingroup$ But "tin" cans are made of aluminium so technically there should've been 13, heh. $\endgroup$ – Octopus Jan 31 '18 at 0:00
  • $\begingroup$ This is, naturally, the correct answer. Could you please edit in the bit about third places, and maybe think of another (British) name for cans in general, and I have the tick here ready for you. $\endgroup$ – Bass Jan 31 '18 at 12:08

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