A Story About Problem-Solving

Love = -104%? Happiness = -117%? Percent of what? I don’t understand these equations.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Years ago, I was on a second date with a guy. As a ice-breaker / amusing conversation topic, he posed one of those classic math brainteaser questions: You’re on a game show and there’s three doors. Behind one door is a brand new car. The other two are empty. You get to pick one door. But wait! The host opens up one of the doors that is empty. Now you have the chance to keep your the original door you chose or you can switch to the unopened door. What should you do to win the car?

I got the problem* wrong.


After that date, I was talking to a friend and saying I didn’t think I should go on a third date because I didn’t think we were compatible.

My friend said that I shouldn’t break up with someone over a math problem. This friend happened to be a math professor, actually. I decided to trust my friend’s judgment. As a math professor, my friend was clearly an expert on math problems.

I went on a third date with The Guy. We had chemistry.


The Guy became my Boyfriend and eventually my Husband. He helped me study for the GRE Math. Not that I was completely math illiterate, but I hadn’t taken a math class in years. We would study on Shabbat – no calculator, no pen, no paper. Sometimes no clothing, although that had nothing to do with GRE prep. In the end, I did quite well on the GRE Math section.

I later told Husband about nearly ending things after the second date.

Husband: I shouldn’t have asked a math problem on a date.

Me: Nah, the math problem was fine. You just needed to date smarter women.

Needless to say, no one was going to mistake me for the brains (or the beauty – Husband is far better looking for a man than I am for a woman) of this operation. To his credit, Husband has always valued my intelligence. But ours was the kind of pairing that outsiders could look at and think Husband had settled on both brains and looks.


Fast forward to about a month and a half ago. Husband needed to take some qualifying exam to get into a class being offered at his work. He was stuck on a multiple-choice math problem. He asked me to look at the problem.

I should probably mention that Husband is the kind of person who can only think about one thing at one time and he had been stressed out and focused on Passover. That is the only logical explanation for why he thought I would be more likely to solve this math problem.

Husband: All of these answers are incorrect.

Me: (reads problem). Isn’t this just a combinations problem? The correct answer would be D.

Husband: *some long explanation that only made sense in Husband’s Passover-addled brain about why the problem could not possibly be a normal combinations problem*

Me: But there isn’t anything in the problem to suggest you need to treat it any differently from a regular combinations problem. The right answer is D.

Husband: I still think that all the answer choices are incorrect, but your choice of D is the most logical of the wrong answers, so I’ll pick D.

Me: It is D. I really think I’m right.

Husband passed the qualifying test and started the class. He did not find out how many of the questions he got right or what the final answers were.

By the way, I have no idea what any of this has to do with Husband’s work. I do not really know what my husband does professionally. Husband has given me three different presentations about his field / PhD work and I have slept through all three of them.


Shortly after starting the class, Husband sent me an email where he found the exact same problem online with the word problem nouns changed.

Husband: You were right.



*This explanation of the Monty Hall problem is from Cut-The-Knot, a mathematics education website started by Alexander Bogomolny z”l, the father of my blogger friend ben Alexander.


  1. I still like the 12 penny problem, where you are asked to determine which penny is “bad,” and specifically, if it is too heavy or too light, by using a simple balance scale three times only. (straight forward–there are no tricks.) Trouble is, everyone I ever presented this to gave up. The other problem is even if you actually know the solution, it’s almost impossible to explain. It’s best to hold this back for the second or third year of constant dating when there is absolutely nothing else to talk about.

    Liked by 2 people

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