Have you got a head for figures?

Can you do sums without using your fingers? Or do you need them to count on or to press the buttons on your computer or calculator? Just for a bit of fun – see how fast you are at our unscientific maths test.

A report’s due to come out on Tuesday in England which is expected to recommend that every school, for children up to the age of 11, should have a specialist maths teacher.

And that got us thinking: does grannie know best? Is it the case that the younger you are the slower you are at adding up in your head? Let us know what you think.

And in the meantime, we on the World Today from 23:00GMT on Monday, are giving you the chance to enter our “brain-box hall of fame” by having a go at our own special maths test.

Have a go. And let us know – honestly – how quick you are off the mark.

So here are the questions:
1. It’s 23:30 on the World Today. Some big news breaks in Kathmandu, Nepal. Nepal is 5 hours 45 minutes ahead of London. We ask the correspondent to be on air straight after the sports news which finishes at 23:43 and 30 seconds. What time will it be in the Kathmandu studio when the correspondent starts his report?

2. Meanwhile, you’re a listener in Lima, Peru. It’s 5 hours behind London time. What time will it be in Lima as you hear the report from Kathmandu?

3. The correspondent in Kathmandu was supposed to take 4 minutes for his piece. But he takes more time because he plays a quick recorded interview with an important politician. His slot is 2 minutes 8 seconds longer than planned. How much time is left if the programme finishes at 00:58 and 58 seconds?

Good luck.

35 Responses to “Have you got a head for figures?”

  1. 1 Julie P
    June 16, 2008 at 21:10

    1) 6:15 in the morning in Kathmando.

    2) Lima, Peru is 6 hours behind London, not 5. I’m 5 hours behind on the US east coast, and Lima is an hour behind me. (I was planning a vacation there earlier this year, and went with London instead.)


    It is 7:15 in the evening in Lima.

    3)10 minutes 50 seconds.

  2. 2 Rex Whitehead
    June 16, 2008 at 21:13

    Here we go again. The BBC’s unshakeable belief that mathematics is figures and elementary arithmetic is just too tedious for words. It’s also very ignorant.

    Presenters and Editors who are too lazy to do more than the standard “Hehe, I was useless at sums at school (but just look at me now).” really ought to be replaced by people who would be as ashamed to admit that they knew nothing about mathematics as they would to admit illiteracy.

    This “unscientific maths test” is not finding “brain boxes”; it is just pandering to the silly prejudices of whoever wrote it (and who thought calling it unscientific was a neato way to deflect any criticism).

    Grow up, BBC. We’re in the 21st century.

  3. 3 Count Iblis
    June 16, 2008 at 21:51

    This is not math, it’s simple arithmetic. I think the problem with math teaching is that students in primary and high school are only given these kind of sums to solve, which is extremely boring.

    Kids of age 10 play computer games that require more logic than you need in order to understand a math lecture at university.

    If we were to teach language in the way we teach math, then we would only teach children the alphabet, spelling, some grammar, and we would have endless spelling and grammar excercises.

    Reading and writing would be limited to very short sentences. The idea being that it is good enough if you can write your name, fill in simple forms and read the sign post on the streets.

    People taught English this way would find it very difficult to read books or to write long texts. So, they wouldn’t like to read books etc..

    Only at universiy would people be taught launguage properly. As language is so extremely difficult, you should only teach it to the future literature professors, right?

    So, what we need to do is to start teaching real math in primary school.

  4. 4 Julie P
    June 16, 2008 at 22:13

    Living in a country with 6 time zones thinking in times zones is normal, but for those who do not live in countries with time zones this may not be anything they may considering thinking of. I’ve had that experience traveling to London. What’s more, my job requires me doing business across 6 time zones, which isn’t always linear. I schedule appointments with people from 6 different time zones for different times during the day. Not only do I need to make sure we are all on the same page, I also have to make sure appointments do not overlap. Keeping track of time doesn’t come to everyone. I’ve had problems with my clients. Besides, this is a nice diversion during the day.

  5. 5 Shirley
    June 16, 2008 at 23:21

    So here are the questions:
    1. 06:13:30

    2. 18:34:30

    3. Breaking News: 23:43:30
    Reporter: 23:43:30 – 23:47:30 (4 min)
    Politician I-view: 23:47:30 – 23:49:58 (2 min, 8 sec)
    Remaining Programme: 23:49:58 – 00:58:58 (1 H, 9 min)

    That doesn’t seem right.

  6. June 16, 2008 at 23:24

    This operation reminds me of maths lessons when I was still at the primary school. If we have to calculate (15:20 – 08: 30), the way to do it is to write 15:20 in a different way by abstarcing on hour from 15 and adding 60 minutes to 20 to get 14:80. The operation becomes (14:80 – 08:30) so the result is 06:50! Old good school days!

    Here is my calculations!
    1) the time in Kathmandu is 05:28:30
    2) Time in Lima is 18:43:30
    3) Time left before the end of the program at 00:58:58 is 01:09:20.

    I hope I got it right. If not, no wonder I can’t calculate my shopping bill. I just hand the banknote and wait for the change!

    Today we live in a world stuffed with figures, that either announce hope or despair. The most watched figures these days are the prices of oil.

    With the mobile phone, people have become too lazy to memorize phone numbers. With calculators, even doing simple calculations looks like a hard task.

    But if people manage to calculate time well, they can do better. No wonder, if nations always racing against time do better than those who think, “Why to do a work today when you can do it tomorrow?”

  7. 7 Will Rhodes
    June 16, 2008 at 23:37

    I hate maths with a passion!

  8. 8 Count Iblis
    June 16, 2008 at 23:55

    This is a more interesting problem involving time:

    The Andromeda Paradox

    As Penrose put it:

    “Two people pass each other on the street; and according to one of the two people, an Andromedean space fleet has already set off on its journey, while to the other, the decision as to whether or not the journey will actually take place has not yet been made. How can there still be some uncertainty as to the outcome of that decision? If to either person the decision has already been made, then surely there cannot be any uncertainty. The launching of the space fleet is an inevitability.”

  9. June 17, 2008 at 00:42

    If Nepal is 5:45 min ahead of London and the time in London is 23:45 at the time of the report’s beginning, then 15 min. of that 5 hour and 45 min difference is used to make it 24:00 (aka 0000). The remaining 5 hours and 30 min. are added to the 0 hundred of the new day. But we added 2 min. to make the number easier to work with that we have to give back. So the reporter will be expected on the air at 0528 of the following date Nepal local time.

    2343 – 0500 is 1843 in Lima, Peru.

    The Original broadcast was to be aired at 23:43:30. The correspondent was supposed to finish at 23:43:30 + 00:04:00. That would have been 23:47:30. But the interview added 00:02:08 making it 23:49:38. So if you subtract 24:58:58 (remember 2400 and 0000 are the same) from 23:49:58 then you have 1hour 9 min and 20 sec. left in the program.

    I am looking down at my government clock that says GMT is 4 hours ahead of us in Cleveland. We are on DST. When we are again 5 hours behind London, I will wish I was in Peru. Peru is an hour behind us and 5 hours behind London, correctly stated.

  10. 10 Julie P
    June 17, 2008 at 01:45


    GMT is 4 hours ahead of us when they are not using Summer/Daylight savings time, which they start March30th. We started DST on March 9th this year, so for three weeks there is 4 hour time difference. When they spring ahead on March 30th there is a 5 hour time difference, if you are in the eastern time zone of the US. Then from October 26th to November 4th there is a four hour time difference again because they set their clock back one hour on October 26th. We do the same on November 4th. I like those weeks when that happens. It makes it easier for me to call my friends in London. Also, on Christmas Day of 2006 when James Brown died BBC Radio 4 called me to ask me to be a guest on their show. It was 5 o’clock in the morning. I asked the person on the other end of the line what time it was and he said it was 10 in the morning. Had it not been the BBC calling me I would have gone off on the person. Right now Lima, Peru is 5 hours behind us and 6 hours behind the UK. I was going to go Machu Picchu for my vacation this year. One of the reasons is that it is 1 hour behind us, meaning no jet lag unlike a trip to London. All of this back and forth with the clock can be confusing.

  11. 11 Dennis
    June 17, 2008 at 01:52

    i hate math to this extent…

  12. 12 Roberto
    June 17, 2008 at 02:35

    This “unscientific maths test” is not finding “brain boxes”; it is just pandering to the silly prejudices of whoever wrote it (and who thought calling it unscientific was a neato way to deflect any criticism).

    ——— Long time job I used to work at involved a lot of mapping.

    Using a variety of maps and formulating a common scale so a comparison could be done.

    It was part art and part mathematics, the art part being that every map has an unknown scale error built into to it, so you had to figure out where the errors were for adjustment.

    Recent college grads almost never could step into the job without major training. Maybe I should make that RE-training since they went through our 1 month training course that was designed by the damned marketing department.

    Marketing departments as most know now run most of big business. Having a PHD or Masters in whatever meant they were now qualified and expected to design a training course for a job with billions of dollars of total liability claim potential in spite of them obviously barely able to do basic math and understand the principles of geography and scaling.

    All part and parcel of the mortgage lending industry that has made the news for hundreds of billions of global losses because of financial shennanigans.

    Educated idiots is what they hired, but me thinks the foxes did the math and made off with the loot skimmed off the top.

    Classic shell game racheted up to the corporate level. Same ol’ story, just new faces.

  13. June 17, 2008 at 03:24

    @ Julie P

    LOL, Julie!! call the FAA explain to them that the reason their planes are all running late is that their clock is wrong!! You may have fixed the National Airspace problem!! Planes will never be late again!! Boy is that going to make my life easier.

    Lol, the mistake you are making Julie P is not reading the whole question and getting all the information and/ or leaping to conclusions. Earlier in the post it was stated that “we on the World Today from 23:00GMT… “. So while the questions didn’t specifically state GMT, it is the most logical guess at their point of reference. Britain’s locals are on BST, which you are correct, is 5 hours ahead of us. Most world programs and governments use GMT/ UTC/ Zulu to avoid this very confusion. It is explained here.

    Lima Peru is an hour behind us, that would make the problem right as stated.

  14. 14 Bob in Queensland
    June 17, 2008 at 03:47

    I spent 30+ years of my working life doing exactly these sorts of sums in my head. It’s far more fun when you have to do it under the pressure of a REAL live show with a nervous producer yelling in one ear and the reporter in Nepal chattering on in the other about asking for an extension (or, in the case of TV, asking if his tie is straight).

    Oh, and you learn to dread the spring and autumn weeks when people are going on and off daylight saving time since the date this happens can vary from country to country!

  15. 15 Vijay
    June 17, 2008 at 03:57

    I assume you mean GMT or UTC for the times on the world today and london.
    ,because Kathmandhu,Nepal is 4:45hrs ahead of BST and Lima ,Peru is 6.00hrs behind BST.
    Therefore the answers would be
    1 05:28.30
    2 18:43.30
    3 1hr 9min 20sec

    Pocket calculators have been in use for 30 years in the UK ,so people have learnt to compute using a calculator ,not mentally or using pen and paper.

    When I took my O level(exam for 15 or 16 year olds) Maths it was the last year without calculators,
    ie log tables and slide rules,jumpers for goalposts.

  16. 16 Bob in Queensland
    June 17, 2008 at 04:51


    I suspect these particular problems were chosen because pocket calculators (and even standard pen and paper arithmetic) aren’t very good at handling time, with it’s 60 seconds in the minute, 60 minutes in the hour.

    Oh, and I’m wondering if the problem setter may have made a mistake. I wonder if they really meant the programme ends at 00:58:58 on the clock–or if it should have read the programme had a total duration of 58 minutes and 58 seconds. In real life I suspect they’d be counting our to news on the hour even if a programme is set to resume after the bulletin….

    …just being picky here!

  17. 17 Mark H
    June 17, 2008 at 04:52

    The answer?

    That depends on how fast you are travelling, at least so thought Einstein. Perhaps yesterday.

  18. 18 Soumya
    June 17, 2008 at 05:16

    The answers are:

    1. 05:28:30
    2. 18:43:30
    3. 01:09:20

  19. 19 Katharina in Ghent
    June 17, 2008 at 08:09

    Here are my answers:

    1) 5:28:31 (the other program stops at 5:28:30, so he can only start at least 1 second later)
    2) 18:43:31 (same reason)
    3) 1:09:20

  20. 20 Wes Robertson
    June 17, 2008 at 08:12

    Vijay and Soumya: The three of us are in agreement. Since no two of the others agree with each other, I believe that true math has won out here. A couple of people seemed to feel that 24:00 is simply an hour that ends with 24:59:59, followed by 00:00:00. Maybe there, but I’m in America, where 23:59:59 is followed by 24:00:00/00:00:00, then 00:00:01, etc. – 24:00:00 lasts for one second, then the new day begins.
    Others missed the 30 seconds (the sports news which finishes at 23:43 and 39 seconds).
    answers: 05:28:30
    one hour, nine minutes, and twenty seconds

  21. 21 Katharina in Ghent
    June 17, 2008 at 08:13

    I think that one significant problem with maths is that nowadays many kids don’t learn to do even simple calculations with their head anymore, they just pull out their calculator (often cellphone) and type in the numbers. But then they have no feeling for whether the result appears to be right or not (typos happen also on calculators…).

  22. 22 Wes Robertson
    June 17, 2008 at 08:17

    This recently happened to me in the American state of Vermont: This is a test: I work for a supermarket. We recently sold ears of corn for 25 cents an ear. I asked three high school seniors who work in the produce department how much it would cost to buy a dozen ears. NONE of them even came close! They had absolutely no idea how to even calculate the total. Is this the fault of the parents, the teachers, the school system, the students, or the supermarket?

  23. June 17, 2008 at 08:25

    I spent so long reading all the answers, that I have forgotten the question.
    I think it was around midnight.
    If god had meant us to be vegitarians , why did he make cows so easy to catch?

  24. 24 Katharina in Ghent
    June 17, 2008 at 08:37

    @ Wes: LOL! Their first question was probably, “What’s a dozen?”

  25. 25 Reyn
    June 17, 2008 at 09:04

    @ Wes

    I’m a recent high school graduate from Hawaii and I calculated the answer to your question quickly and with ease in my head. The answer is $3.00 (plus tax). I cannot believe any of your co-workers could not come to an answer, that is ridiculous.

    As for the original question, here are my answers.

    1. 5.28.30
    2. 18.43.30
    3. 1 hr 9 min. 20 sec.

  26. June 17, 2008 at 10:07

    @ wes,

    For reason of math it is much easier if you think of the problem using continuous number. It is way easier to think of it as 24:58:58 – 23:49:38 then it is to think of it as 00:58:58-23:49:58. It means the same thing, just doing an unnecessary conversion in ones head. The second version brings up way too much inefficient use of the neuron firings. If you were writing a program, it would require you to count in increments in the positive/positive quadrant and never return to zero. This little glitch was at the root of “the millennium scare”. When simply trying to find the difference in time, an amount of time, count up as high as you want. Get crazy count up to 63:04:26. The math is much easier then using a needless conversion.

  27. 27 Mohammed Ali
    June 17, 2008 at 11:45

    Answers to the questions:
    1. The time in Kathmandu will be 5:28 and 30 seconds AM
    2.The time in Lima will be 6:43 and 30 seconds PM
    3. The time left will be 1 hour,9minutes and 26 seconds.

    What a brain teasing test. That’s great.
    Please we will like to know the result. just post it opn the blog.

  28. 28 Mohammed Ali
    June 17, 2008 at 12:01

    I agree the answer for #3 should be 1 hr, 9mins and 20 seconds and not 26 seconds. It was an oversite in the from my part in the question.

  29. 29 Jerry Cordaro, Cleveland OH
    June 17, 2008 at 14:13

    1) 05:28 and 30 seconds (assuming no break between the stories)
    2)18:43 and 30 seconds
    3) 1 hour 9 minutes and 50 seconds.
    It took about 5 mnutes (mostly because of scrolling back and forth!)

  30. 30 Jerry Cordaro, Cleveland OH
    June 17, 2008 at 14:14

    Oops,the answer to #3 should be 20 secs, not 50 secs – I typoed!

  31. 31 umoh (from Nigeria)
    June 17, 2008 at 16:39

    Count me out of this one

  32. June 17, 2008 at 17:47

    I agree with Bob, the way it sounds: if the program duration is shown to be 58: 58 then the answer would be 00:24:20 in Nepal.

    The thing that takes me the longest is the daylight savings hour. Checking figures it would be a under 15 min. but not by much.

  33. 33 Adriano rodrigues
    June 18, 2008 at 14:20

    question 1: 5:28:30
    Q2: 18:30 start ends at 18:43:30
    Q3: 1:09:20

    as i was reading i did the math, so by the end of each question i had the numbers..
    I have been like this since i was a kid, love numbers, equations and math quizzes…
    And i love to solve them by head, the strange thing was as i was at school, the teachers used to penalise me because i would not write in the test sheet how i got the result…

    That ended the day my dad went to school and had a chat with them…

  34. 34 selena
    June 18, 2008 at 15:00


    Your post made me laugh. The same thing happened to me. I always knew the answers and I couldn’t be bothered to write it out. It seemed like a wast of time.

    Alas, I didn’t have a Dad to stick up for me…


  35. 35 Adriano rodrigues
    June 19, 2008 at 13:34

    @ Selena

    Hi, it is just that at the time the calculations seemed so obvious, and that alied with the fact that in Portugal where i grew up, you are allowed to leave the class room once you have finished, made the will to write the calculations very small…

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