A few years ago, I came in to work one evening and was asked by a cow-orker how to divide a dollar among three boys. I said “give them each thirty-three cents and keep a penny for yourself.” The cow-orker thought that my answer was funny. Since it was funny, he thought that I was “just kidding” and not giving him an accurate answer. Assuming, then, that I did not give him an accurate answer because I did not know the answer, he called his girlfriend to ask her the same question. I don’t know what she told him, but the cow-orker later expressed surprise to me that her answer was essentially the same as mine.
The above is a favorite story of mine. I have told it on several occasions. Often, when I tell this story, I am asked why the cow-orker thought that my answer was funny. A true answer to this question would require mind-reading skills that I do not (for the most part) possess. However, I have worked with this cow-orker for over ten years now. He is one of the nicest people you would ever want to meet, and he reads his Bible every day. I know him reasonably well.
After having thought, for some time, about why my answer would seem funny to him, I think that I can make an attempt at an explanation. It is not a short explanation.
1) My cow-orker asked me a math question. But I whipped out my answer instantly. My cow-orker did not see me sit down with paper and pencil to work out the math problem. If I did not do math, then I could not be giving my cow-orker an answer to his math question. My answer could only have been a joke.
2) I am the office clown. I say funny things all the time. The cow-orker to which I am referring is a particular fan of my quips. The manner in which I answered my cow-orker’s question was similar in style and approach to the delivery of my witticisms. My answer could only have been a joke.
3) The answer that I gave to my cow-orker was ludicrous. That is to say, the numbers that I gave in the answer were silly numbers. The number was thirty-three. Thirty-three is not a nice, round, sensible, every day number, like “twenty” or “thirty” would be. In answering my cow-orker, I spitted out goofy numbers. My answer could only have been a joke.
4) I am telling my cow-orker to steal. My answer included the words “keep a penny for yourself”. This is theft. In my answer, I am telling my cow-orker to risk his job, and his immortal soul, for a penny. My answer could only have been a joke.
The four points above constitute, as a whole, irrefutable proof that I don’t know how to divide a dollar among three people. By the way, if I were to give a joke answer to my cow-orker’s question, it would be “give them each a quarter and keep a quarter for yourself.”
---Pip R. Lagenta