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Dear Mitch,

Next month is the anniversary of the birthday of the legendary escape-artist and magician, Harry Houdini. I am a full-time math teacher, but my life-long hobby is magic, and I have always enjoyed making Houdini's birthday into more of an in-school event than one usually sees. I try to give a fun math problem that has something to do with Houdini, and then, after we go through it on the board and the students check their work, I treat them to a brief magic show of my own (usually card tricks that involve a drop of math but mostly for entertainment). I've become sort of known for this day, at least within the small community of our middle school, and I was wondering if you happen to have any suggestions for the opening problem that would require a number of different operations to be utilized. If so, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you for your time,


Mr. V.

Wilmington, DE


Dear Mr. V.,





If it took Harry Houdini 25 minutes to escape from a locked box, and that box was locked inside a trunk, and that trunk took him thirty minutes to escape, and that trunk was locked inside a large postal sack, and that sack took him eighteen minutes to escape, and that sack was locked inside a room, and the room took eleven minutes to escape, and the room was locked inside a ship, and the ship took one hour to escape and that ship was one mile from the shore, and that shoreline was 10 miles from the nearest telephone, and Houdini could swim ten miles per hour (WOW!), and the telephone had a line of people waiting to use it, and there were 11 people on that line and each one needed to speak for two minutes, and it took Mr. Houdini 38 minutes to talk someone into lending him enough change to make a telephone call, and the person he called took eight minutes to realize the ringing in his ear was actually a telephone and then required another five minutes to get himself over to the kitchen to pick up the receiver, our question is this:


Ignoring the fact that the person Houdini called lived four hours away, had no idea how to get to the phone booth at which his buddy was standing, and owned no map and could not recall where he'd left the keys to his car, how much time will have passed from the moment Houdini began the series of escapes to the moment his friend arrives?


(In other words, for the purposes of simplification, let's let this friend be a magician too, and let's assume that his big trick was that he could instantaneously zap himself to wherever he needed to be.)


And the answer is. . .


Hope this helps,